Wednesday, February 1, 2012

From the Porpentine Archives: In Which My 20-Year-Old Self is Anxious About Grad School

We're doing job and grad school applications in Advanced Comp, so I was just having a look through my applying-to-grad-school notebook from college and trying to get back into the headspace of someone struggling to write a statement of purpose. Well, apparently my approach to writing such a statement was to get drunk a lot and ramble at great length about my personal life in a little black notebook, which probably isn't a tip that I'm going to pass along to my class. But I came across the following List Of Anxieties, which I thought was amusing.

Questions so stupid that I don't dare ask my professors

1) How do you pronounce "prolegomena"? What's the difference between one and an introduction?

2) How important are clothes, styling gel, etc. for females in the academic world? Is it just me, or do a lot of young female profs dress to intimidate? (I could never, ever, in a million years look so polished; it's not my style. Will this matter?)

3) Do admissions committees really expect applicants to have developed specific research interests? How is this possible when you usually spend a couple of years figuring out what you want to study and a third getting your bearings? If you can't tell them specifics and you don't want to lie, what else can you say in a personal statement? (So far, we've established that they don't want to hear about your love of [field of study], your unrelated extracurricular activities, or your personal life unless you've overcome major hardships, which I haven't.)

4) Will there be a lot of boring, snotty people whose idea of good conversation is making everyone else (ok, specifically, me) feel like an idiot? What about uptight individuals who discuss Anselm's Proslogion at breakfast and still worry that they're not good enough to pass all their classes?

5) Is the [Beloved Alma Mater] English department a) really, really easy; b) out of touch and 30 years behind the times; and / or c) so stunningly good I'll be spoiled for anything else? At different times I have suspected all of the above.

6) Must applications be typed? Who the hell has a typewriter nowadays?

7) If they want to interview me, do I have to say yes? What would be the best excuse?

(In case anybody's wondering, the correct answers are: 1) Hell if I know; 2) They probably do matter, but you'll get by without them; 3) No, they don't, and in a couple of months you will get a summer tutoring job that will enable you to write a kick-ass personal statement, so don't worry about that. Oh, and you don't actually want to be a medievalist, so any research interests you make up now will be moot; 4) No, there will be really cool people who give good parties, and you will like them a lot; 5) None of the above; 6) No, your mother has given you a complex about your handwriting. Filling them in by hand will be fine; 7) YES, for God's sake, YES.)


heu mihi said...

I wrote the final version of my personal statement drunk on G&T's. Wish I had a copy of it, but it's lost to the ages; all I know is that I had some kind of rambling comparison between walking pilgrimage and reading, or something. But hell, it got me into (or, probably more accurately, didn't keep me from getting into) a program that I now know most likely should've been out of my reach.

Fretful Porpentine said...

Mine was about finding my feet as a teacher while working at a very weird and exploitative tutoring center and reading Latin in my spare time. It had nothing whatsoever to do with my research interests because I hadn't the foggiest clue what they were, or what research even was, but apparently it worked anyway.

ntbw said...

Wow--I expect I am a good bit older, but I do not have any recollection of what I said in my grad school statement of purpose. I do, weirdly, very well recall my undergrad admission essay, which, if I do say do myself, was really cool. It was about discovering my love for organic chemistry (which I still find fascinating) even though I wanted to be an English major.

Bardiac said...

I was SO naive about how other schools worked and how grad stuff worked when I was applying. SO naive!

These are great concerns :)