Welcome, everyone, to the 2016 – 2017 school year. I’ve broken this letter down into three parts. The first part touches upon something of what it means to be an MA literature student in the world today, and is meant to encourage you as you head off into the new school year. The second part introduces you to a special theme that we’re hoping to emphasize across all of our liberal arts programs here at Mercy College this year. The third part contains a review of some helpful resources and other practical points about graduate study to keep in mind this and every semester that you’re with us.
I want to begin the year by commending all of you graduate literature students for having the conviction to pursue your goals inasmuch as they include earning the Master of Arts degree. I’ve written of this before, but it’s worth repeating that being a student of literature, which is to say a student of the humanities, which in an overarching sense is to say a student of the liberal arts, is not always an easy thing to be in our world today. Your passion and pursuits are perhaps not always understood or appreciated by those around you, sometimes not even by those closest to you. Our society has a habit of casually marginalizing the importance of the arts as a meaningful pursuit, field of study, or career. English, like most of the liberal arts, is a discipline that in our increasingly data-based and so “pragmatically-geared” society has become a soft target for those who think only in terms of practical outcomes.
We might easily provide a pragmatic rebuttal to such concerns:
- the MA degree qualifies you to hold a full-time English professorship at the community college level, and those are pretty great teaching positions if you’re looking for a stable college-level position that tends to pay well and usually comes with solid benefits;
- it allows you to adjunct at four-year colleges which depending on your long-term goals either (a) gives you invaluable teaching experience for when you apply to full-time positions, or (b) can be a satisfying side-job complementing another career or position one might hold elsewhere (some adjunct professors do adjunct work not as a career but as a way to enrich their lives, while earning some money in the process); or (c) can itself be a career, if you can establish yourself enough across multiple institutions that they offer you courses each year—this path though works best if you have a working partner or spouse with whom you pool your income;
- if your goal is to try for a full-time senior college professorship, the MA degree may be and has for some of our students been the stepping stone to a PhD program;
- the MA English degree is traditionally a degree held by those in fields such as publishing, editing, journalism, technical-writing, copy-writing, content-writing for media or other outlets, etc.;
- finally, in a business sense, an MA can be a degree that complements another degree, such as one in management, and so “rounds out” an applicant in the eyes of those hiring for such positions.
But here’s the rub, the thing that I believe many and perhaps most MA literature students feel: the pragmatic, though it matters, is the lesser point. The greater point is that we love literature, we love words. That is where this begins. Life is just better when you’re in the flow of literature, when you’re engaging the words written by humanity’s great poets and thinkers and authors from across the centuries, across millennia—when you’re engaging them alongside others.
And so though we can respond fittingly to questions about practicality and pragmatism, let us more recognize how the impetus to enroll in graduate literary study is fueled by some wonderfully strange and relatively rare element burning in the deep core of your being. If you are here, on some level it is because you’ve felt the mystery, the power, the imperative coursing up through the literature of the past; and you want to stay close to it; you want to be a part of it. To be a graduate literary student is to be in good company with what Emerson would call “the like minded,” which bespeaks not reductionism or homogenization of difference but rather simply a shared appreciation for the wonder of the written word, and a desire to explore and explicate humanity’s writings and wisdoms alongside others who feel similarly.
As some of you know, our school of liberal arts (which is one school out of five here that together constitute the greater Mercy College) welcomed a new Dean at the start of last year, Dr. Tamara Jhashi. If you’re curious to attach a visual to the name you can see her pictured here in the blog post for our spring 2016 graduate English symposium. Dr. Jhashi is a stalwart defender of the liberal arts and of the importance of the liberal arts in our lives. One thing that she has brought to our school is the idea of an annual school “theme,” not as something to which any individual or class must necessarily adhere, but rather as an inspirational idea around which some of us—if inspired to do so—might rally and to which we might together tend.
The theme this year is borders. This theme of borders was arrived at holistically through feedback among the faculty and a faculty vote, all which was organized through a committee that Dean Jhashi created.
I don’t have to tell you English grad students that whatever that word borders signifies or inspires is entirely up to each of us to define and pursue in our own way. It’s meant to be a broad and general theme, something that sparks ideas and doesn’t curtail or force them into any particular frame.
So why am I telling you this? Well for one it’s because as students in the MA program, which is housed in the school of liberal arts, you are of course students of the liberal arts. So this is your theme to pursue, if you wish and in whatever way you wish, as much as it is mine and the other faculty here and all of the students in all of the liberal arts courses running here at Mercy College, undergrad or graduate. Perhaps you can use this theme to help you focus in on a research topic for whatever class you’re in this semester. For example in my Search for Identity Course I’m going to encourage (but of course not require) students to keep the theme in mind when designing a research topic this semester.
For another thing, our Writing/Image/Text (W.I.T.) 2017 Graduate English Symposium will be on the theme of borders. Now that doesn’t mean that, if you were to come and be a part of the W.I.T symposium in the spring, that you would have to write a paper that tends to that theme—I already know that some of you are working on papers for the symposium and if that’s the case, keep on with whatever you’re doing. But we’re going to encourage you all to find some way to make your papers relate to the theme of borders. And if you’re planning on attending the W.I.T. symposium well the easiest thing to do would be to write some paper for a class over this or the next semester somehow involving the theme of borders, and then to just show up and share that paper with us at the symposium. I’ll be talking more about the symposium here on the blog in early 2017.
Finally, let me collect here links to information and resources that you should all be aware of. This blog post linked here contains a rundown of resources and contact-info that Mercy College provides for its students, whether on-campus or online. This support ranges from basic student services, to mental counseling, to registering accessibility accommodations, to getting online writing and research tutoring, to our online research facilities. On this post linked here you’ll find information about the incomplete “I” grade which some of you might occasionally receive. As I explain in that post, it’s critically important that any incomplete be remedied within one year of earning it; otherwise you lose the potential course-credits and lose the money you paid for the course. For those approaching their last semester, you must pay attention to your required comprehensive exam, to the instructions for how to enroll in the final 599 course, and to the application you must complete in order to graduate. For those hoping to enter the college teaching job market check out this post here where I introduce a variety of resources and information on that topic. If you’re going to be applying to anything in any academic field you’ll need to have your curriculum vitae (CV) polished up and also need to know the difference between a CV and a resume. I talk about that here. Finally let me link you here to a post about the waitlist feature that you may encounter when you try to register for a course with no empty seats.
Although you should all have contact with advisors in the Student Services department, I serve as faculty advisor to every student in the MA program. Just keep that in mind if you have any questions or issues with anything in the program. If you’re having issues in any particular course you should always first communicate with and work to resolve any issues with the professor of that course. But again, I am here for each and every one of you as your faculty advisor, so feel free to contact me at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or have something you’d like to discuss. Okay that’s it! Have a great semester, everyone,