The First Rule of PhD Applications…

The first rule about PhD applications is: YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT PhD APPLICATIONS (more than a little, itty-bitty bit). If you want to keep your friends, that is. And I’ve just about pushed mine to the extent of their patience and ability to paste on a smile and act interested.

It’s not that they don’t care, it’s not even that they’ve really complained. It’s just that this all consuming activity I’m in the midst of is not so all consuming or even that interesting to them. Except the nerdy English major ones, but even they have their limits. And don’t even ask about how often I’ve rambled on about application stuff on social media. Because it’s embarrassing to the point of shame and guilt-eating.

So, I’ve decided to move my PhD applications posts here. That way, anyone with a vague interest in the process can follow along and everyone else can remain blissfully ignorant. But don’t worry, these posts will not take over the blog. I will helpfully mark them out (as I did in the title) so that you can skip them if you wish, in search of crazy rants, writing posts, and the other strange products of my writing compulsion.

The Road So Far (yes, that is a Supernatural reference):

For those of you who haven’t read the “about me” page, I’m an English nerd. Love me some words. Love me some literature. Love me some cheap, cheap genre fiction.

More particularly, I’m a Victorianist with an M.A. in Literature (which you might have guessed from the length and complexity of my sentences). I am interested in Victorian Sensation and Crime fiction as well as contemporary offshoots of that fiction (Neo-Victorian novels, Steampunk, Urban Fantasy with VIctorian aesthetics, crime and mystery etc).

So, you future Victorianist PhD applicants who are scouring others’ blogs and narratives about the process, you’ve found something to compare your process with (I have been doing the same thing, as ridiculous as it is). This is a process that offers no certainty, no means by which to judge yourself and discover if you have even the tiniest inkling of hope. It’s worse than comps in terms of the sheer overwhelming self-doubt and insecurity you feel. Hopefully, it will all pay off in a couple of months. Right? Right.

I started with a large list of schools to apply to, but quickly realized that  I did not have the time, or, more importantly the funding, to take both the GRE General and Literature Subject tests this time around, and, as a result I narrowed the list down to about 8. Then, after emailing Graduate Coordinators and POIs, I disqualified another school because, after several months they had not bothered to reply to my very polite email. If they treat prospective students that way, I don’t want to speculate about how they treat their actual students.

I winnowed a couple more schools out because their application fees were too high in comparison to the quality of the program or because I didn’t think my husband would be able to find much work in the area (yes, I’m up against the two body problem…particularly because my husband may decide to pursue his PhD after a short break).

That process left me with seven schools, which is (I think) somewhere in the middle of the range generally agreed to be ideal. I am also in the process of compiling a second list of schools in case none of these accepts me or offers funding (I have excellent stats, excellent letters of rec, a very polished SOP and writing samples, a nice CV, etc. But it’s a hope for the best, prepare for the worst kind of game, kiddos).

The schools are (in no particular order of preference, because I would be ecstatic to attend any of them):

  • University of Washington, Seattle
  • University of Oregon, Eugene
  • University of Colorado, Boulder
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Iowa, Iowa City
  • Duke
  • Brown

Now, I’ve been given a wide array of advice about this list, from valid concerns that I haven’t picked enough backup schools to reassurances that this is a process about fit and casting a wide net is what is really important. To be honest, at this point I’ve lost all confidence in my ability to decide things, judge things, and think for myself. I am the Schrodinger’s cat of PhD Applications, simultaneously sure that  ALL THE SCHOOLS WILL REJECT ME and that ALL OF THE SCHOOLS WILL LOVE AND ADORE ME AND REVEL IN MY ACADEMIC SKILLZ. With a Z, because that’s how far gone I am. And because the application process.

But this is exactly why I started to research programs and faculty and places way ahead of time. Hopefully, past me had it all together and made the tough calls that led to this list with all of the wisdom of Yoda and The Doctor combined. These schools are all hard to get into, most are these days, but I mostly think I have a reasonable chance, depending on which faculty are looking for new students and a million other little factors.

At the end of this process, I will post things like my GRE scores, etc., so that future people like me can do comparison-type-stuffs. Although such things are, most likely, huge wastes of time and energy. But, hopefully, I will be too happy dancing on the graves of my enemies perusing multiple offers of admission and funding to really care who’s wasting their time comparing their situations to mine.


I’ve submitted applications to University of Colorado, Boulder and University of Iowa, Iowa City. I will submit two more by the end of the week (if I can finagle my writing samples into AWESOMENESS in time) and the rest next payday. *crosses fingers, holds breath, decides holding breath was a poor decision since she’s got a couple of months of waiting…*

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