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Saturday, April 23, 2011

How To Choose a PhD Program in Spanish

Because some other bloggers have addressed this I thought I would too. Spanish and Latin American literature or 2nd-language acquisition with an emphasis in Spanish are fields where you can still get a tenure-track job. Virtually all of our students at Kansas, for example, have gotten such jobs. Everyone who is really, really good, and some that are a little less than stellar, have gotten jobs. Academia is a still a brutally competitive domain whatever your field, but in Spanish, at least, you have a reasonable chance of getting a job if you are good and geographically mobile.

(1) Look for specific people you want to work with. Preferably a program with at least two people you would consider working with. The program in the abstract means nothing if the best people there are in the wrong fields for you, or if the excellent ones (on paper) in the right field turn out to be jerks.

(2) Consider fields beyond the "default." You might think that you want to do Latin American narrative, because that's all that you've really been exposed to. Think in terms of other genres, poetry and drama, or centuries earlier than the 20th. You don't want to be just another specialist in the the contemporary narrative and film of the Southern Cone region, unless you think you can rise to the top of that very crowded field.

(3) As the other blog said, beware the Ivies. The problem with Ivy-league programs in Spanish is that they are very small (in number of faculty) and hence unstable. Think of the difference between a program with 5 faculty members, and one with 15. With 5 major professors, if two are fighting with each other, then your committee possibilities are slim. Also, Ivy-league professors aren't always the best mentors, because they don't feel they need to tell their students how to write cover-letter, construct cv's, etc...

(4) Look for the total package. Financial support. Good faculty willing to mentor. A department that has a track-record in placing people in jobs.

I was miserable in Graduate School because I did not choose wisely. I still came out ok, but that was despite my program, not because of it. Some day I tell that tale.

19 comments:

Spanish prof said...

Maybe a follow up about how to write your personal essay when applying for grad school? I can't provide much input on that, since we do not teach graduate students

sptc said...

I tried to comment on Spanish Prof's post but Spanish Prof's site doesn't take my comments for some reason ... a WordPress/Blogger interface issue.

Anyway my comment said do take location into account, you may not get to later and this is a big piece of your life, so you might as well enjoy it.

I liked my graduate program but it was at one of those public Ivies where you get mistreated in the way you do at Ivies. I didn't know enough to know it was mistreatment (although I did notice that some professors were nice and that they were the exception). In a summer program I went to elsewhere, I met some KU graduate students and was impressed. They were smart and well educated like us, but had had their confidence built up, not undermined - unlike us. So I might recommend KU.

Jonathan said...

I would recommend KU too. I think we do a good job. I wouldn't have thrived here myself, perhaps, but I didn't where I went either.

Jonathan said...

Is "sptc" the same commenter as "profacero"?

profacero said...

Yes - there's my notetaking blog and my personal blog. The personal blog is where I do therapy on myself, and I make it public because that somehow makes me think more clearly and progress faster. Sometimes though I am logged into the notetaking blog instead, and post from there because it's kind of more interesting than that wailing personal blog, some days.

Clarissa said...

"Virtually all of our students at Kansas, for example, have gotten such jobs."

-Wow. Out of the people who graduated with me of the year after, one other person has a TT (a very good one) and another person is getting a TT now, three years after graduating. I can't think of anybody else who has a TT out of those years (except me). The rest of people are Visiting, lecturers, post-docs, high school teachers or unemployed.

I really wish somebody had told me all this stuff sooner.

Jonathan said...

Yale should be doing better than that. If it is not, it shows the importance of good mentoring.

Clarissa said...

There was this whole culture among graduate students that consisted of thinking that all you need is to complete your dissertation and take as much time as possible doing it. Obviously, when all you have to show at the end of 8 or 9 years in the doctoral program is a dissertation, nobody would want to hire you.

My colleagues literally badgered me for trying to build up my CV, publish, find opportunities to teach literature course, do some kind of service activities. But now I know that my strategy was a good one because I have a job.

Spanish prof said...

All my grad students classmates got TT jobs too (they might have been one year as a VAP first, but that was it). I graduated from a state flagship university that is not even in the top 20. Or to put it more clear: the last Assistant Professor my institution hired while I was there was from Ohio State.I don't think that Ohio State would have hired me, because my school doesn't rank high enough.

Regarding what Clarissa is commenting: I've seen a trend in the past 3 or 4 years where a lot of small universities, teaching colleges or regional universities are actually avoiding Ivy League graduates (and similar universities). Last year, I was speaking with an acquaintance that works for a regional state university (probably the fourth more important state university in that state). It's a 3-2 teaching load, in a decent city. At that time, they had an active search for a TT line in contemporary peninsular literature. He told me that after their last hire (from Ivy League) spend his three years at the university making everybody clear how superior he was to the rest and looking for a job elsewhere (which this person finally found), this time they were trying to avoid the situation and actually looking mostly into graduates from Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State and similar institutions.

Spanish prof said...

And to sptc: Feel free to email me your comments, and I'll post them on the blog

Jonathan said...

It's definitely true that Ivy league graduates can come off as "too good" for a lot of places. In other words, they are prepared to go only to other research institutions, and those are not where the majority of jobs are. In this respect I think a good state school often offers more job possibilities.

italicsmine said...

In a post you indicated that you attended Stanford for your PhD when discussing your colleagues. Would you not recommend it, then, for a student looking into their program, since you have indicated that you were miserable?

Jonathan said...

I wouldn't recommend Stanford for Spanish right now. The level of the faculty does not reflect the reputation of Stanford overall as a university. Resina is very smart, and Surwillo is an up and coming scholar, so this is not meant to say anything negative about any particular individual. For other fields, you'd have to look at the people in that field.

xxxx xxxxxxx said...

Hi Jonathan, I am Liliana, from Colombia. I would like to pursue a PhD in Spanish, but I am very confused in choosing the "right" program. My top four priorities for a PhD program are full tuition remission (Good TA opportunities, good stipends, etc), a diverse program (with a number of Spanish speakers fellows), a department that has a track-record in placing people in jobs, and good reputation in the field on research. I would need an advise from you and from people on your blog that want to help me. The universities that I have found that could have these features are: New York University, Stanford U, UC Davis and Penn State University. Which one do you think could be "the right one" for me. Please help me. BTW Have you finished your PhD? Did you get a job position? :) Thank you!
Lilli

Jonathan said...

Please email me at jmayhew@ku.edu. I can give you some assistance.

Kirsten said...

Um, yeah, this isn't exactly true: "Virtually all of our students at Kansas, for example, have gotten such jobs. Everyone who is really, really good, and some that are a little less than stellar, have gotten jobs." Although I love my job and the colleagues and students I work with--and I thank my lucky stars every damn day that I'm not on the tenure track--my position is something of an outlier in the realm of contemporary higher education. (And I know I'm not the only one from my cohort in a similarly contented, non-TT situation.) Kansas is a good program and I am the teacher I am today because of that training, but for god's sake, don't lure new folks in on flimsy promises of being "good enough."

Jonathan said...

That post is from 2011

Kirsten said...

And your point is what, exactly? That I should follow your blog more carefully? It's still sloppy reporting of the facts, whenever it was written. The fact that grad programs often have no idea where their alumni end up is part of the problem.

Jonathan said...

Well, I think my statement was accurate at the time it was made. We had an excellent record of job placement, with many. many students in excellent TT jobs. The job market has declined significantly from when I wrote this post. In your cohort it was very possible to get a good TT job, if that is what you wanted. If you are fine where you are, that's great.