Year-End Events and Honors: Symposium, Student Awards, and Commencement

We’ve reached the end of another academic year, which means it’s symposium season, awards season, and commencement season!

For our annual Graduate Student Symposium this past April, a good number of students, faculty, friends, family, and others in the graduate English community gathered on zoom to hear scholarly presentations from Abigail Collopy, Rayne Dolton, and Adrianne Gunter. Interpretations and insights were expressed; ideas were discussed; and much camaraderie and collegiality was had. Presenters earned a valuable line-item to list in the scholarship section of their curriculum vitae. The graduate faculty encourage all of our students to share some of your writing and ideas at next year’s symposium, which will likely be in late April 2024. Ask any of your professors or the Program Director about doing so, if you have any questions or need some guidance.

Three students were recognized recently for program year-end honors. The first of these honors is the Graduate English Christie Bowl, named for the late Joannes Christie who established and long chaired Mercy College’s English Program. The award, determined by the collective graduate faculty, recognizes one graduating student for their consistent academic excellence and classroom performance throughout their time in the graduate program, their other contributions to the program’s scholarly learning community, and their relevant accomplishments beyond the program’s coursework.

  • The winner of the 2023 Graduate English Christie Bowl is Tim Brosnan 

Next is the Howard Canaan Thesis Award for Innovation. This award honors the late Dr. Canaan, a long-time and highly-esteemed professor of English at Mercy College who (among many other things) taught Shakespeare and Science Fiction, and advocated that the latter could be as meaningful an area of study, could be as “literary” and as significant, as the former. This award recognizes a thesis that does one or some of the following: approaches literary analysis in a unique, unexpected, or unusual way; reconsiders and otherwise treats with dignity genre fiction; or involves interdisciplinary studies.

  • The winner of the 2023 Howard Canaan Thesis Award for Innovation is Casi Kapadia for her study “Fashion Statements: Fashion in Literature as a Social Mechanism in the Formation of Identity”

Finally, we have the Thesis of the Year Award. Selecting one study for this award, as much as for any of the other awards, is always extraordinarily difficult, as thesis students across the program regularly create excellent studies that are each worthy in their own right. The paper receiving this distinction stood out in all respects.

  • The winner of the 2023 Thesis of the Year Award is Selana Scott for her study “Ulysses’ Bloom; The Embodiment of the Mechanisms and Benefits of an Internal Locus Of Control Mindset”

It is always a strange thing to announce such distinctions as when doing so one can’t help but think of the marvelous students and studies that are not the ones named. Again, it is extraordinarily difficult for faculty judges to locate any single person to honor for any of these awards out of the many exceptional students graduating each year from our program and the college overall. So as we recognize these honorees let us please also recognize all members of the graduating MA class of 2022-23 for their hard work and dedication that has gotten them to this moment of completing their MA degree in English Literature.

One last program-relevant thing to mention here is that for Mercy College’s School of Liberal Arts commencement ceremony, held last week on the western athletic field of the Dobbs Ferry campus (the 100-yard event tent is pictured below), the college selected one of our own to deliver the graduate-student commencement address: Tim Brosnan. Tim gave a wonderful speech in which he expressed many of things that he cherished most about his time in the graduate program, as well as his appreciation for many of the individual faculty with whom he studied during his time in the program. It was a heartening and laudable finish to the year.

Cheers to everyone in the MA English Literature program, to our alumni, and to all of your family and friends. Congratulations to our graduating class of 2022-23. Onward we go!

Grad Student Book Club (open to students and alumni)

There’s been some talk about students in the MA program forming up a book club, so to have a more casual, extra-curricular, and student-run venue at which to discuss books and socialize with other graduate students outside of the classroom and the program structure. This is a great idea, one worth pursuing and registering as a student club with the College. In order for this to get off of the ground, we need two things:

First we need to create a list of everyone interested in joining the book club (note that expressing interest doesn’t bespeak an obligation to attend, it’s just necessary for the college to verify how many students might join and attend the club if it launched).

Second we need at least one person to step forward here at the start and indicate that they would be willing to be the club president, or a co-president, from go. In the context of this book club, the club president would mostly be responsible for organizing the online discussion sessions (e.g. polling the club members on when would be the best time to meet, creating and disseminating the zoom links, hosting the zoom session, and in-between meetings taking point on correspondences from other grad students interested in joining the club.).

If multiple people are interested in being book-club president, that’s great: in that case different people can take turns organizing the discussion sessions and such. I sponsor an undergrad student club at Dobbs Ferry that has three co-presidents, and they enjoy taking turns at it. Note that the book-club president(s) wouldn’t be deciding the book that the club reads: that would need to be agreed upon by the club, as a group (or by using whatever method of deciding that the club decides is best).

So, if you’re interested in joining the grad-student book club, please send an email to with your name and CWID number. And if you’re willing to be listed as a club (co)president here at the start, please indicate that as well. Again we need at least one person to step forward for that, otherwise the club won’t launch, since college student clubs need to be student-run and student-managed. Thank you.

(Edit in: Also, let me add, that alumni are welcome to be a part of the book club too, so if any alumni reading this are interested, let me know.)

ENGL 515 Latin American Lit is moving to asynchronous (no weekly zoom requirement)

Due to lack of enrollment in the zoom-enhanced fall ENGL 515 Latin American Literature course, we’re changing the course to the standard asynchronous format. This means there will no longer be the Thursday night zoom requirement attached to the course. The change in modality will appear in Connect by the end of this week. Please contact with any questions.

Take a chance on 515 Latin American Lit and 560 African & Caribbean Lit

After one month of fall registration being open, one course is already full, and a few others have just a few seats left. There’s lots of time yet, all spring and summer long, but two courses with a lot of seats still available are 515 Latin American Lit and 560 African & Caribbean Lit; so I wanted to send this note out across the graduate student community and encourage you to consider these courses for your fall schedule.

515 Latin American Lit will include a live zoom discussion once a week, on Thursday nights, from 7:00-8:20pm eastern. We’re running this course in this way as an experiment, based on feedback from the program-wide survey in which a significant amount of students indicated that they wanted live-zoom choices added to the schedule. Whether or not we run courses in this modality in the future will depend much on whether or not this class draws students. So for any students who want there to be live-zoom options in the program, we need you to stand up for that by registering for this fall 515 course. The course is listed in Connect as running both on Tuesday and Thursday night on zoom, but in fact it will only be on zoom on Thursday nights.

The theme of the 515 Latin American lit course will be Protest and Resistance in Latin American Literature. Students will examine works by the Mexican writer Nellie Campobello, the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, the Argentine writer Luisa Valenzuela, and the Cuban filmmaker Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, among others.

The 560 African & Caribbean Lit course will explore works of writers from a variety of African and Caribbean nations. Students in previous instances of this course explored works by writers such as Naguib Mafouz [Egypt], Wole Soyinka [Nigeria], V.S. Naipaul [Trinidad], J.M. Coetzee [South Africa], Nadine Gordimer [South Africa], Derek Walcott [St Lucia], Chimamanda Adichie [Nigeria], Jamaica Kincaid [Antigua], Edwidge Danticat [Haiti], Mariama Ba [Senegal], Tsitsi Dangaremba [Zimbabwe], and Athol Fugard [South Africa]. Some of these writers will likely be included in the class this fall.

Both of these courses will offer students a unique and inspiring experience. On behalf of all of the faculty in the MA program, I hope that our graduate students find a way to fit one or both of these courses into your fall schedule. Please write to with any questions.

Reminder: 2023 Symposium is live-online, April 29; RSVP and CFP deadline extended to Friday 4/14

In hopes of gathering more attendance for this year’s Graduate English Symposium, which will be online/on zoom on Saturday 4/29 starting at noon eastern, we’ve extended the deadline for declaring as a presenter or audience member to this coming Friday 4/14. If anyone has any questions, or would like to present, or attend, please write to by the end of Friday 4/29. Thank you.

Registration Info and Updates

Registration opens today, 3/20. Below are a few registration notes. This list will be updated as necessary during the registration window:

  • UPDATE: 506 History of Poetic Forms is now active on the summer schedule. The summer ENGL 506 History of Poetic Forms course is not appearing on the schedule. That is an error and will be fixed today, asap, so expect 506 to appear on the schedule soon.
  • ENGL 500 is permit locked per the information shared in this earlier post. In order to receive a permit to register for the 500 course, you must (1) be on track to complete your MA degree prior to fall 2024, and (2) receive a permit from the program director by contacting
  • ENGL 599 Master’s Thesis doesn’t appear on the schedule, since the way you register for the tutorial is unique. Consult this post for instructions and guidance for getting into a 599. After reading that post, contact with any further questions.
  • Summer registration has been brisk right from the start (one class is already full with registration having been opened for just two hours). The 506 course will appear soon to provide more options. Depending on demand, we might schedule another course. The way students can signal whether or not another course is needed is by getting on the waitlist for full courses. If those waitlists climb to the point where we can see that a lot of students are waiting for seats, then another course will appear. If those waitlists don’t fill, then that signals to us that the existing schedule is adequate and has absorbed the expected amount of summer students.


On Saturday April 29 the MA program will be hosting its annual “Writing Image Text” or “W.I.T.” Graduate English Symposium. The event will be held live online through Zoom. We will begin at noon, eastern time. The event will likely run for three hours, or so, but the end-time will only come into focus once we know how many MA students will be presenting.

This call for papers (CFP) is limited to current students in the program. Active students who want to attend but not present, as well as alumni, prospective students, faculty, family, guests, etc., are all very welcome and encouraged to attend as audience members. The deadline for responding to this CFP and declaring as a presenter is the end of Saturday, April 8.

The symposium is a casual mini-conference at which active MA English students can read aloud a scholarly or creative work. A paper that you’ve written for any of your MA courses would do just fine. Full instructions and guidance for presenting will be shared with presenters after April 8. The symposium is also a community event at which you might see/meet fellow grad students, program professors, alumni, and others in the MA community.

Graduate students and professional scholars often attend and read at local, regional, national, and international conferences, so this symposium provides a friendly small-scale introduction to the conference experience. And for anyone who reads a paper, it becomes a line-item that you can list under the scholarship section on your CV (click here to read more about the CV).

Anyone planning to attend this year’s WIT symposium, as presenter or audience member, please let me know by sending an email no later than the end of Saturday, April 8, to For all emails please use the subject line: WIT Symposium 2023. Presenters please also, in your email, let me know the title of the work you will present. I need this info in order to appropriately organize the event and create the program. I need non-presenters to RSVP as well so that I know everyone to whom I will need to send Zoom login info before 4/29.

You can read about some of our previous symposiums on the blog here, and here, and here, and here. On behalf of the MA faculty: we hope to see you all there! Please contact if you have any questions about any of this.

Summer and Fall 2023 Schedules

Update 5/2: 515 Latin American Lit is no longer a zoom course.

Update 2/24: students can take multiple instances of courses numbered 514, 515, 540, and 560, as long as the courses running by those numbers are different. So for example you could take ENGL 540 Ulysses and ENGL 540 Fairy Tales because these are two different courses.

Update 2/21: to learn about how to enroll in an ENGL 599 master’s thesis tutorial, which every student must take during their final semester in the program, click here.

Summer and fall 2023 registration will open soon. We’re running three graduate English courses this summer and six in the fall (many students don’t take courses over the summer, which is one reason why summer schedules are always smaller than fall and spring schedules). Each course will have 15 seats, so students interested in taking any of these courses should be online as soon as registration opens to claim seats in your preferred courses.

Please note that if you’re using any of the dubious “schedule planning” tools recently launched in Connect, courses running by the numbers 514, 515, 540, and 560 won’t show up there by the unique titles shown below or listed in Connect itself. They’ll instead show up with generic titles such as “topics in British Literature” or some such thing. Ignore those generic titles, as they don’t necessarily bespeak the nature of the course actually running by that number. Use the numbers, titles, and descriptions below as your guide.

The descriptions below are subject to change.


  • ENGL 506 – History of Poetic Forms (Dr. Kilpatrick)

The course will study the major forms and conventions of poetry that have developed from classical models to the present. Wherever possible, particular poems from different historical contexts will be compared and analyzed to demonstrate how these forms and conventions have developed and been adapted to specific personal, ideological, or cultural pressures. (Fulfills the Writing & Literary Forms requirement or an elective.)

  • ENGL 540 – Fairy Tales (Dr. Boria Sax)

This course looks at the discovery, history, intellectual interpretation, and literary adaption of fairy tales. Such tales have been variously viewed as, among other things, a font of primeval wisdom, a guide to growing up, or a response to the stresses of modernity; and students will consider such views while exploring what else fairy tales might be, and why else fairy tales might exist. The semester will begin with a study of classic collections of fairy tales such as those of Perrault and Grimm; will examine permutations of fairy tales over time; and will conclude with a discussion of the continuing popularity of fairy tales in contemporary films such as Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and Universal Studios’ Shrek. (Fulfills an elective by default. Can fulfill a Literature Group 2 requirement upon request.)

  • ENGL 560 – Murder, Mystery & Suspense (Dr. Sean Dugan)

The genre of the murder-mystery novel is often viewed as “escapist “or “diversionary,” but in addition to it being entertaining, for many, the genre rather offers insights into societal values and attitudes including racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. This course will trace the development of the murder-mystery genre from the 19th century to present-day, with a focus on, among many other things, the question of why stories of this genre are so interesting to so many people. (Fulfills either a Literature Group 1 requirement or an elective.)

FALL 2023

  • ENGL 500 – Theory & Practice of Lit Criticism (Dr. David Kilpatrick)

An introduction to some of the major movements and figures of the theory of criticism. The question “what is literature?” is a primary concern of this course. Such an inquiry necessarily engages other, closely affiliated signifiers such as work/text, writing, reading, interpretation, and signification itself. After brief encounters with ancient antecedents and seminal moderns, influential contemporary approaches to the question concerning literature and its cultural significance are engaged. An assessment of the relative strengths and weaknesses of current trends in the practice of literary criticism, and their theoretical groundwork, is the ultimate objective of this course.

NOTE: All students must complete ENGL 500. The course runs once each fall semester, so if you’re aiming to graduate at the end of fall 2023, spring 2024, or summer 2024 and have not yet completed 500, you must enroll in this course for fall 2023. The next instance of the course will be fall 2024. For this reason this course is registration-locked and requires a permit from the Program Director. Anyone not on pace to graduate in the semesters noted above can request a permit but will only be given one if seats remain after everyone who must have the course during this fall 2024 instance gets a seat. All students who need or want a permit for 500 should contact to request one.

  • ENGL 507 – Narrative Strategies in the Novel (Dr. David Fritz)

This course studies the novel and various narrative methods used in the novel over the centuries and across the British and American traditions. 3 credits. (Fulfills either the Writing & Literary Forms field requirement or an elective.)

  • ENGL 515 – Latin American Literature (Dr. Celia Reissig-Vasile)


Our theme this semester will be Protest and Resistance in Latin American Literature. Literature in Latin America has long been a vehicle for explorations of interpretations of social history and cultural identity. Latin American literature has gained international respect for its ability to present social criticism through works of imaginative creation. The Latin American writer uses language to engage readers in the polemics and complexities of the Latin American experience; literature in Latin America is thus not just art, it is also social commentary. In this course we will examine a variety of mediums of protest and resistance in Latin American literature. We will examine texts by the Mexican writer Nellie Campobello, the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, the Argentine writer Luisa Valenzuela, and the Cuban filmmaker Tomás Gutiérrez Alea. We will also focus on examining the relationships between aesthetics, politics, and history. (Fulfills an elective by default, but can fulfill a Literature Group 1 requirement upon request.)

*NOTE: this course was scheduled as a zoom, however due to lack of enrollment it has been switched to an asynchronous online course in the usual style.

  • ENGL 540 – Literature by Women (Dr. Miriam Gogol)

This course is an exploration of women’s writing in a variety of genres, such as story, poetry, memoir, and essay. Students will experience and analyze writings by women through a variety of different perspectives, e.g., through the lens of feminist theory, psychology, history, etc. We will as well consider some of the social and cultural forces informing the lives of the women writers we study, and will consider how these forces might intersect with and inform the literature created by women. 3 credits. (Fulfills a Literature Group 1 requirement or an elective.)

  • ENGL 545 – Literature of the Left Bank, Paris (Dr. Christopher Loots)

This course examines the diverse people, culture, and writings of the expatriate community of the Parisian Left Bank during the modernist movements of the early- and mid-twentieth century. Authors covered typically include Edith Wharton, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Hilda Doolittle, Andre Breton, Mina Loy, Nancy Cunard, Zelda Fitzgerald, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin, among others. In the course of our studies we will consider the significance of Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Company bookstore and lending library, and of intellectual and artistic salons such as those of Natalie Barney and Gertrude Stein. An emphasis will be placed on studying the historical context of modernism in Paris, as well as on the cultural geography of Paris which attracted so many of the world’s great writers and artists, and gave rise to some of the most profound writings ever created. 3 credits. (Fulfills a Literature Group 2 requirement or an elective.)

  • ENGL 560 – African & Caribbean Literature (Dr. Donald Morales)

This survey course of cross-generational writers from Africa and the Caribbean will take as its focal point the theme of “Justice and Human Dignity in Africa and the African Diaspora.” The course looks at writers whose works address the idea of justice and human dignity in the domestic, political, religious and moral arenas. Some possibilities include Nobel Laureates Naguib Mafouz [Egypt], Wole Soyinka [Nigeria], V.S. Naipaul [Trinidad], J.M. Coetzee [South Africa], Nadine Gordimer [South Africa] and Derek Walcott [St Lucia]. Other options are Chimamanda Adichie [Nigeria], Jamaica Kincaid [Antigua], Edwidge Danticat [Haiti], Mariama Ba [Senegal], Tsitsi Dangaremba [Zimbabwe] and Athol Fugard [South Africa]. As a group these writers look critically at their societies, with, at times, grave consequences but nonetheless seek a just life for themselves and their fellow citizens. 3 credits. (Fulfills either a Literature Group 2 requirement or an elective.)

NOTE: Dr. Morales plans to update the readings for this course after attending and considering ideas presented at conferences this summer. So some of the authors/works listed above could be studied, but some will likely be replaced with different authors/works. The spirit of the class will remain the same as described here.

Waiving Your Right to Access Recommendation Letters, & Other Advice for PhD Program Applications

Some of our MA students aspire to join a subsequent program upon completing their MA degree, such as a PhD or MFA program. If you’re one of those students interested in pursuing a PhD, this blog post is for you. This will be a long one so get a cup of coffee.

Securing admission to a PhD program has always been, and is still, a very difficult thing to do. The field is highly competitive. Most programs open just a few seats each year and have hundreds of applicants (the CUNY Graduate Center, for example, opens 15 to 20 English PhD seats each year and receives four hundred applications on average; UC Berkeley opens about 10 to 15 English PhD seats each year and receives upwards of five hundred applications annually). This information isn’t meant to discourage, is rather meant to contextualize the process so that your expectations will be informed by real data. Some of our MA graduates have achieved entry into PhD programs; others have tried and have not. There are steps you can take during your MA studies to make yourself a more viable candidate for PhD programs.

This includes developing a rapport with Mercy professors who teach and publish in your area of interest and from whom you will eventually want to request a recommendation. Building a rapport can be accomplished by taking courses with those professors and making sure you’re a positive and helpful presence in the classroom, aren’t just doing the bare minimum but are striving in discussions and in your papers to go beyond the minimum required. Building rapport can also be done by treating your professors with respect in exchanges of all sorts, whether in the classroom, in email, on the phone, or otherwise.

Another step is to go beyond the classroom and engage in the other types of professional development: such as presenting papers at conferences, conventions and symposiums. This might sound daunting but it can be done rather easily by reading something you’ve written for one of your MA classes at our annual Graduate Student Symposium; the next one of which will be held later this spring on zoom. Details about that will be shared on this blog in good time. Presenting in this way is classified as “scholarship” and having any sort of scholarship listed on your curriculum vitae is practically essential for applying to PhD programs these days.

The next-level of scholarship, the most valuable form of scholarship, is publication by peer-reviewed journals or presses. But it’s extremely rare for applicants applying for PhD programs to actually have publications of this sort. Most often it’s during PhD studies that a student begins to achieve scholarly publication of this sort. Again, presenting scholarship at conferences, conventions, and symposiums is the most reasonable focus for your scholarship as an MA student.

Performing other relevant work can boost your application chances too, such as volunteering for an editorial position for the college’s annual Red Hyacinth literary journal (advertised each year on the blog). Such volunteer editorial work doesn’t have to be done at Mercy College, so be on the lookout for similar opportunities in your area, or online.

Within your classes, be sure to read everything assigned; and read as much as is possible beyond the required readings. That can mean reading the recommended readings a professor might list, or even just doing your own research each week to secure sources, primary or secondary, relevant to the required reading. You all need to secure an assortment of secondary sources when completing your papers, but doing that sort of scholarly work throughout the semester, rather than just when the papers are coming due, will both develop your research chops and increase your overall knowledge of and experience with texts and scholarship in the field.


Typically PhD programs will accept applications during the spring, summer and early fall of the year prior to the intended year of entry, and will have a deadline late in the fall of that prior year (so for example, if applying for fall 2024 entry, the deadline for applications will normally be fall or early winter 2023). What this means is that MA students who aspire to apply to a PhD program for fall 2024, and who are on track to complete their MA degree prior to fall 2024, should be starting to survey the scene and get their application materials together now.

Surveying the scene can include selecting what programs to apply to, reviewing the applications from those places, gathering required application materials, establishing your recommenders, and actually submitting the application. Let’s talk about these steps.

When selecting institutions to apply to, the first consideration is whether or not you’re willing to relocate. If you’re not, then don’t waste time looking into any institution beyond whatever is your commute distance. It’s rare for someone to not have to relocate to attend a PhD program, so just keep that in mind. Even today it’s difficult to find a PhD program that’s fully online because one of the primary responsibilities of a PhD program is providing its students with old-fashioned in-room teaching experience. This is why you might find a few almost-fully-online options out there, but they’ll still usually require a semester or two of residency (because that’s when they’ll put you in the classroom to teach).

Research various programs. Learn about their faculty, and particularly about the faculty teaching in the area of your interest. Review their curriculum and see if it speaks to you. Find out what financial support the program offers (some offer “full rides” to every incoming student, others might have competitive scholarship or grant opportunities for some students, others offer support only through work-study and teaching fellowships, while others offer little or no support. Of course the programs that offer the most widespread and comprehensive support are also the most sought and competitive to enter, and so might not be the most reasonable target for your application).

Consider a range of institutions; and to increase your chance of success, apply to multiple institutions. A good start is to look into state universities (University of [X] and [X] State University). Avoid the allure of applying only (or at all) to the supposedly elite/prestige institutions. Ivy league institutions, for example, might open just a few new PhD seats in a year, and might favor their own undergrads or MA students, or applicants from what they consider to be their elite “peer” institutions. Moonshot applications to such places, including to ultra-elite public institutions such as UC Berkely, have an extremely low chance of success for most applicants nationwide, and especially those not already in the pipeline of these institutions. Of course you should do what you want and feel is right, but each application costs money. Consider, always, the cost of such things. As a point of reference, in recent years Mercy College MA students have entered PhD programs at: University of Wisconsin, University of Georgia, Texas Tech, Marquette University, St. Johns University, Bowling Green State University, Nova Southeastern University, among others.

Regarding recommendation letters: establish your faculty recommenders many months before any recommendation will actually be due. One of the rudest things you can do in this regard is to approach a faculty member for a recommendation that’s due next week. Many faculty will simply say no in that situation, as they will already have a huge queue of work to which they are tending. If you’re planning to apply to programs for a 2024 start, now is the right time to be asking around and securing your recommenders. Keep in mind that in instances where you and another candidate look essentially identical on paper, your recommendation letters will likely spell the difference. You want to be sure that whomever is writing your letter has plenty of time to do so, doesn’t feel rushed, and doesn’t feel disrespected (which is how it can feel when someone asks for a letter due next week). And with that in mind, let’s talk about the point included in the title to this blog post:

When submitting your application you will be asked whether or not you waive your right to access the recommendation submitted on your behalf. Of course the choice is yours to do whatever you want, but you should strongly consider waiving your right to access. You’re not going to find any Admissions Dept. that will ever say this in writing, but institutions will generally be skeptical of recommendations submitted for someone who did not waive their right to access the recommendation. The only reason this is even an option is due to a lawsuit a few decades ago which thereafter required this to be an option. Prior to that, recommendations were by default kept confidential between the recommender and the institution. When the recommendation is kept confidential, meaning is done without the applicant monitoring the exchange, institutions know that whatever the recommender is saying is the unfiltered truth. If the right to access the recommendation is not waived, though, institutions might presume that the recommendation is skewed toward the positive due to the recommender’s knowledge that the applicant is monitoring the recommendation. It’s human nature: people tend not to say anything critical about someone if that person is standing right there, and so the possibility of the student monitoring the situation threatens to invalidate anything positive being offered by the recommender.

Your recommenders know if you refused to waive your right to access the recommendation because we get an alert informing us of this when we go to submit our recommendation.

So from the institution’s perspective, not waiving the right to access could suggest that the applicant does not trust the recommender to provide a positive recommendation, or is even hoping to influence the recommender into providing a more positive recommendation than they might have otherwise. For the exact same reasons, from the recommender’s perspective, it can be insulting when you choose not to waive your right to access the recommendation.

The irony is that you should only be asking for letters of recommendation from faculty whom you know for sure will say only wonderful things about you (and the way you secure such faculty, and know as much, is by building rapport with faculty as described above). And so there should be no question that your recommenders will be saying only wonderful things on your behalf. And so by not waiving your right to access, you risk invalidating, in the eyes of your target institution, a glowing recommendation that would have been no less glowing otherwise. And you risk alienating your recommender.

If you’re curious to see what your recommenders are saying about you, all you have to do is ask them privately to share with you a copy of their letter. Most faculty are happy to do so, especially because there are plenty of situations in the world where it will help you to have a copy of the letter in-hand anyway.

Deciding whether or not to apply to a PhD program is a big decision. If you decide that you want to apply, that’s just the beginning of an application process that takes time, patience, research, and money; and that doesn’t always result in landing a seat in a PhD program. Hopefully the information and advice above will prove useful to those in our MA program who are interested in applying to PhD programs. As a last bit of advice: speak with your 599 thesis tutorial mentor for more personal suggestions and advice regarding this process.

This is the director's blog for the Mercy College MA in English Literature Program. This is not the official College site. The purpose of this is to share news and other information to help MA graduate students stay current with the state of the program and navigate the MA degree. Students in the program should check here regularly to learn about upcoming registration periods, course schedules, and other news.