10 Ways to Decide Between Two Schools

Disclaimer: the entirety of this post (except, you know, this italicized part) is tongue-in-cheek. I am a planner, through and through, and have spent hours (oh, so many hours) debating, making pro/con lists, emailing faculty and grad students with questions, researching, etc. I take this choice VERY seriously, but I also need to decompress from research-mode so that I can visit both places without all of the facts swirling around in my nutty-little-noggin’ and just experience each place before I make my final choice. 


Here’s a not-so-hypothetical situation for you: you’ve been accepted to a couple of PhD programs, you’ve researched them extensively and, although the programs are different, they’ve both got lots to offer. There are pros and cons to each place, sure, but no matter how many times you tally them up and compare, you come to the conclusion that they’re both great choices–and, despite the different atmospheres they offer, they’re both about equal in terms of education/career opportunities.

What do you do in that situation? How do you choose? I’ve compiled a handy list of possible solutions:

  1. Paint the toenails of one foot in one school’s colors and the toenails of the other foot in the other school’s colors. Choose whichever school’s colors last the longest.
  2. Dress your pet up as the school mascot–which costume is more flattering? Choose that school.
  3. Take a long, hard look at the school colors. Which ones work better with your complexion? Choose that school.
  4. Pin a map to your wall, take a couple of shots of whiskey, spin around just enough that you are dizzy but not so much that you vomit, point to a spot on the map: whichever school is closest to your finger is the school you should choose.
  5. Flip a coin.
  6. Grab an apple and twist the stem while chanting the ABC’s schoolchild style. When the stem twists completely off, take note of the letter you landed on: whichever school’s name is alphabetically closer to that letter is the school you should choose.
  7. Ask a magic eight ball.
  8. Keep  an eye out for license plates from the states your potential schools are located in: whichever state you see first is the winner,
  9. Base your decision on which mascot you like more.
  10. Whichever school contacts you next is the one you should choose.


And Then There Were None…

I use this particular Agatha Christie title too much, although at least I’m not using the racist alternate title, right?


The application season is officially over for me. I have now heard back from all of the programs, and the tally is as follows:

  • Three acceptances
  • Four rejections
  • One wait list / the school won’t be sending any more news until after April 15 but hasn’t rejected me outright

As you can all probably imagine (unless you have very limited cognitive powers, in which case, I am sorry), I am ridiculously excited. I am jumping-up-and-down and giggling like a madwoman excited–the kind that makes people look at you like you just escaped the nearest psych ward.

Now, it’s time to make decisions, to make plans, to get excited because I’m not just building castles in the air anymore. I’m building foundations under them–just like Thoreau suggests.

I am on my way to becoming a professor, to being Dr. Floyd in real life and not just in my daydreams.

I’ll post actual details when the decisions have been made, but until then *squeals and runs around in circles.*

Is Insomnia Just Part of the Package?

I never really struggled with insomnia until the final semester of my M.A. program. Sure, I’d have the occasional sleepless night, but they never occurred in twos, threes, or even for weeks at a time until the last week of my last semester. I slept like a baby the night before my Thesis Defense. But by the time I’d finished all of my coursework a week later, I was sleepless despite my exhaustion. The night before graduation, I didn’t sleep at all. And there was much less to be stressed out about then.

I have a theory that I sleep better when I have MORE going on. Inaction and waiting make me restless, leaving me making to-do lists into the wee hours of the morning. Sure, sometimes the insomnia is related to excitement, but more often it’s new things, the unknown, that electric mixture of fear and excitement that courses through my veins with such intensity that I become convinced I can actually feel it, streaming through me and commingling with my blood. I can’t wait to get started. I have no choice but to wait.

Maybe that’s why it started the week before graduation. For the past six years, I’d known my plan. My life had order and organization, and I knew exactly what to expect and what would be expected of me on a daily basis.

It was glorious. Much like this:

Anyway, starting last summer, I got a new job (doing familiar things–teaching/tutoring–but in a new place). I was facing down a year without coursework (I still feel like something’s missing, because of that). Last fall, the unknown was the world of PhD applications and the sheer potential that sprang into existence with every application I filled out.

Now, waiting for those application results, I’m starting a new semester. Probably my last at my Alma mater. I’m teaching a literature class for the first time. I’m pondering which of my books I’ll be forced to put in storage and which ones I absolutely cannot do without as I start this new adventure. I’m looking forward to a cross-country (or interstate) move, but nervous because this will be my first one as an adult. I’m sad because I’ll be leaving behind some of the most amazing people–the faculty and colleagues I’ve worked with and studied under here at the Alma mater–and nervous and excited to work with new people in a new department.

Things will never be the same. I think the word “better” is arbitrary (apples to oranges, and all that), but I hope that, if I get into a PhD program, it will be filled with people as wonderful, diverse, and accepting as those I’ve come to know here.

Well, it’s back to the pre-semester to-do list for me. Keep it classy, internet.

Libraries, One More Time

Gospel Truth.

So, I ended up applying to one more university, where one of my new favorite Victorianists teaches. The school has an amazing program, a fellowship specifically for Victorianists, and a beautiful campus. Consequently, I owe you one more library tour.

University of Florida.

U of Florida is home to the George A. Smathers Libraries, which reminds me vaguely of the Simpsons. These are not the only libraries associated with U of Florida, but these seven libraries are home to the humanities collections (primarily located in Library West). The libraries host an impressive 4.5 million physical books, as well as nearly 80,000 electronic journals, over 600,000 ebooks, and much more. You can see a picture of Library West here, and visit their Facebook page here.

Also, there is a Starbucks right inside the library, for convenient caffeination.



Libraries, Continued…

Having caught up (not completely, but a bit) on sleep, I am much saner and more well balanced today. This is a very good thing, particularly since I’ve been catching up on reading.

Last night, I finished reading Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.

Today, I am reading Disease, Desire, and the Body in Victorian Women’s Popular Fiction by Pamela K. Gilbert. I’m highlighting every other paragraph (on my kindle). So, yeah. Intriguing stuff. For example:

Genre is a category that has less to do with intrinsic properties of particular texts than the needs and concerns of readers reading those texts –  a particular era and cultural group, its concatenation of fears and desires and market forces which take shape from and feed those trends. Generic categorization and slippage between categories mark a particular point of interest since the act of naming is also an act of reading the bodies of authors and readers by whom the text is produced and consumed. (Gilbert loc. 77)

This is making me inspired to start writing my SWPACA (Southwest Popular/American Culture Association) paper, which is about the way Neo-Victorian aesthetics in Lost Girl couple with an emphasis on social and gender binarisms and the human body to mediate the past and present and negotiate supposedly fixed categories. See the connection? 😉

And, yes, I often jump from children’s lit to Victorian Literary Criticism. I have diverse tastes in reading material, okay?

Anyway, I promised to finish a certain PhD school library tour today, and so I shall:

University of Iowa, Iowa City.

According to the University of Iowa website, the current Main Library (which, as far as I can tell, has no other name) was complete and in use in 1972. The Iowa City campus boasts several libraries (like all of the other campuses I’ve looked at) and houses, altogether, some five-million texts. Impressive, right? Here’s a photo-history of the current library building.

University of Chicago.

At University of Chicago, there are six libraries (and all of them are beautiful. I’m not an architecture nerd, but wow). The humanities collection is hosted in the Joseph Regenstein library, pictured here. I googled some different shots of the building, and it is significantly bigger that it looks. Like the TARDIS. Or something…

Anyway, according to the University of Chicago website, the Regenstein Library holds over 4.5 million texts (and that’s just physical copies, folks!). This probably explains the enormity of the library. I mean, it’s five stories of book after book after beautiful book. I’m feeling a bit weak in the knees, at the moment. *drools*

And as all good research libraries should, the Regenstein hosts a cafe for caffeine pumping.


Have you ever been inside of a library that looks like a castle or some English manor right out of Jane Eyre? No? Neither have I. Now that I’ve been reminded of this lack, it’s being bumped to the top of my bucket list. The very top. Before jamming with Jolie Holland, before eating a whole bucket of fries in Idaho, aka potato-land, and even before becoming the next Gilbert and Gubar with my good friend and fellow Victorian nerd (who I’ll refrain from naming here because I don’t know if she’d like it). Okay, not before that last one. I *strive* to be the next Gilbert and Gubar, with every fiber of my being.

Whew. Anyway, Duke’s David M. Rubenstein library would be an excellent choice for bucket-list-crossing-off-activity. Just look at it and try not to drool in awe. I’ll wait. *crosses arms*

You failed, didn’t you? I see that drool-smear on your chin. Don’t worry, there’s no shame. The Rubenstein library, according to Duke’s website, the library was built in 1928 and added to in 1948. Inside, there are a host of bookish wonders, including a rare manuscript collection. Sigh. It is so beautiful.


At Brown, the main humanities library is the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library. AKA, “the Rock.” According to the website, “The Rockefeller Library with a capacity of 1,500,000 books was opened in 1964.” That’s a lot of books. 🙂

Here’s a picture of the current library, and here’s a link to the history of the library at Brown. 

That concludes our library tour, ladies and gentlemen, please keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle until we come to a full stop. Until next time, this has been the anxious-potential-PhD with a lot of information you may or may not care about.

Libraries, or, Waiting is Hard. Must. Distract. Self.

It’s only been a couple of days since I finished my PhD applications (I know, the date of my last post says it’s only been one day, but I actually posted on Dec. 1 and I think my blog has time zone issues).

Due to some insomnia issues, however, I feel like it’s been at least a week. And I have developed a compulsive need for certainty that I’m pretty sure will never be satisfied. Or, at least not for two months. Which is beginning to sound like twelve years.

And I thought I was slightly nutty before. BahahahahHahahHAaAaaa. *eye twitches*

Ehem. My life is suddenly all about distraction. Work is a good distraction, as are television watching, grading, eating, playing my guitar and singing, cleaning my house, etc. As soon as I’m done grading, I’ll add EDITING THE NOVEL to the distraction pile, because I perform better when I’m able to tell myself that I’m doing said thing for the sake of avoiding another pressing thing. It’s like, I have to come at everything from this weird oblique angle of slanted-intention. If that even makes sense.

Today, however, I’ve run out of productive distractions to do (sleeplessness makes reading for fun hard) and I’m stuck at a very slow Writing Center for another two-and-a-half hours. So, I decided to give you a blog tour of the libraries each potential school offers me. Because I’m all for order, we’re gonna do this geographically West to East. I grew up in the West, okay? It’s always first in my mind.

University of Washington, Seattle. 

Although the University of Washington has many libraries, the two I would work with most as an English student would be the Suzzallo and Allen libraries. According to the university website, the libraries are home to over two million print volumes and cover 350,000 sq. feet. *Nerd Glee*

The Suzzallo, which went into construction in 1922, is simply breathtaking. I’m posting links instead of pictures because of copyright schtuff. I don’t want to take credit for anyone else’s work. But seriously, look and drool.  It also includes an espresso cafe. *faints*

University of Oregon, Eugene.

Once again, there are several libraries on this campus (what’s with that? my Alma mater only had one. I feel cheated. *pouts*). The main library is the Knight library, which was built over a two year period (1935-7). It’s got some awesome greco-roman architecture going on, which I really like, and more importantly, holds over 3 million volume and subscribes to over 17,000 journals. That, my dears, is research heaven. Especially for someone who did a master’s thesis at a one-library institution (is that the equivalent of a one-horse town? probably) with a limited collection of texts and periodicals. My former institution’s library has no delusions of its own grandeur and I love it dearly despite its smallness. Still, it will be nice to do real, large-scale research in a ginormous library if I get into one of these schools.

You can take a look at Knight library here. I’m pretty sure I also saw mention of a coffee shop on the library’s premises. *cha-ching*

University of Colorado, Boulder.

Boulder is another campus that boasts multiple libraries. I’ll be in library heaven wherever I end up. 🙂

Ehem. Norlin library is CU Boulder’s main branch and home to the intriguingly named Laughing Goat Coffee Shop. The library hosts an Arts and Humanities collection of over 700,000 titles, but I haven’t been able to figure out how many books it houses in total. I will research this more later and edit accordingly. Here’s a great shot of the library. So pretty. So big.

And…my brain is too numb from sleep deprivation to continue writing. So…

To Be Continued. 

And Then There Were None… (PhD Applications Update)

Agatha Christie titles are so versatile. I’m excited to say that, in this case, And Then There Were None does not refer to ten gruesome murders. Rather, it refers to seven arduous applications.

I finished them all today! My original plan was to wait until next payday to submit the final three. But, since next payday is actually only five days away, I decided to go for it. For the next two weeks, I’ll be in constant grading mode for the three English Composition and Research sections I am teaching this semester, so it’s probably better this way.

Although, I can already feel the inaction creeping in and inviting its friends: doubt, anticipation, and anxiety. Fine. So all of those were already camping out it my over-populated mind. But at least I could distract myself from them. The next two weeks will be bearable because of the grading. But after that it’s…*looks at calendar on phone*…at least two months before I can even expect to hear anything. And that might be low-balling the estimation, as I’ve heard that some universities don’t get back until March or even April. Gah!

So, I’ll be daydreaming and waiting and writing a conference paper and, hopefully, finishing a novel in the meantime. And what goes better with any of those activities than music?  Below are a few of the songs I’ve been jamming to for the past several weeks (they’ve been helping me keep the antsy to a bearable level).

“It’s Only a Paper Moon,” Ella Fitzgerald (great for daydreaming)

“Girl Anachronism,” The Dresden Dolls (don’t watch if you’re easily offended)

“Alone,” Trampled By Turtles (love me some punk-grass)

“Head On” Man Man (My new favorite band. For a few weeks, I listened to this song about five times a day)

“Melatonin Rum,” The Vespers


Clearly, I have pretty wide-ranging taste in music. I could post some Hip-Hop, too. Don’t put it past me. *glares*

PhD Apps: Let Me Back Up a Bit

There was a time, months and months ago, when the last rambling post I made would have been impossible even to start. It was a time before THE LIST took over my life. And by THE LIST, I mean the list of schools and check list of application requirements that has not left my side and is becoming mildewed and so coffee stained that most of the paper is a stale brown color.


So, where did all of this madness begin? How did I even know what schools to look at? How did I sift through the immensity that is academia and find programs that I thought would foster and challenge my research?

Well, like all English majors, I started by snooping. And by snooping, I mean, being part of the English dept. long enough to learn where all of my professors went to school. Those schools were where I started my research. Now, as a disclaimer, my Alma mater has a grand total of one Victorianist, and even though the school she went to has an excellent program, it is very close to where I grew up and I knew I wanted to go somewhere different for PhD school.

So, I turned to a handy list compiled by the University of Texas at Austin, which you can find here. This list is organized in two formats: alphabetically and by state. The “by state” option is much more helpful, in my opinion, because it allowed me to look for universities in parts of the U.S. that I actually like and where I would actually like to live.

The only problem with this list is that it does not provide any indication of which schools just offer Bachelor’s / Master’s  and which offer PhD programs. But it is an immense list, and adding those kinds of notations would be a phenomenal task.

So, I delved into guesswork, clicking on university names and perusing their English department websites to see if (a) they even offered a PhD in English or Literature, (b) if they had any Victorianists on their faculty lists, (c) what kinds of work they required for the PhD, including coursework/hrs but also comprehensive exams, language requirements, etc. (d) if they offered funding and in what form–TA, RA, Graderships, etc, (e) if they offered health insurance, (f) if they offered research and/or interdisciplinary opportunities.

As I noted in a previous post, one of my big criteria for this round of applications was whether or not the school required the GRE Subject test, because if they did, that automatically put them into “next year, if none of these schools pan out” territory. It’s not that any of them are second-choice schools, in fact, Harvard and Yale both made the list (although I would only apply to one, because they are both reach schools). But there are so many possibilities that they have to be sorted somehow, and the GRE Subject requirements seemed to be a rational way to sort them. Mostly for financial reasons, but also because I’d rather not take another standardized test if I don’t have to. They make my eyes glaze over.

After I compiled a list of possible schools in this fashion, I also did a Google search for “best PhD in Victorian literature” which didn’t turn up much, and “Best doctoral programs in 19th century British lit” which led me to the highly contested rankings of the US News. I didn’t concern myself terribly with the actual rankings the site gave, but rather took advantage of the list  of schools that I knew had PhD programs in a Victorian and/or general 19th century studies. This was immensely helpful, as was their list of 100+ English Grad programs in the U.S. (not sorted by specialty).

Finally, I skimmed through the forums of Grad Cafe, where people occasionally post lists of the schools they intend to apply to. That site is more terrifying than helpful, but it’s become something of a morbid fascination for  thousands of potential grad students (as far as I can tell). All it really offers is a swirling vortex of angst, anxiety, self-doubt, and a few dubious and vague statistics on acceptances and rejections for every U.S. institution you can imagine.

Interestingly, this is probably the EASIEST part of the application process, because you aren’t in so deep that you’ve lost confidence in your decision making abilities. It’s also fun because, like window shopping, it involves a lot of daydreaming and “what will my life be like if I end up here” scenarios. I also did a lot of research about the bookstores, coffee shops, farmer’s markets, and pubs near each school I chose. Because those are the essentials of life. Enough said.

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…*

Biting the Bullet

This has been a year of extreme changes for me. I graduated from my master’s program, got two part-time jobs, drafted my mystery novel (again), and started applying to PhD programs.

I’m the kind of person who romanticizes adventure but HATES change. It’s like one of those Fanny Dooley things that the kids on Zoom used to talk about. And now I’ve dated myself. Change requires the pulling of many figurative teeth on my part, but I am looking forward to it, because I really do love adventure. 

Recently, I took the GRE and this whole PhD idea is getting much more tangible. It’s starting to feel like a real possibility and like much less of a daydream. 

I’m also a few days away from attending the Tony Hillerman Writers Conference and I’m in the process of editing my novel into excellence.

So, to kickstart my adjusting period, I decided to throw some smaller change into the air–making my writing blog more official-like. By “official-like,” I mean buying a domain name so that my URL fits on a business card. I mean prettying-up the place. I mean getting taking another step in the serious pursuit of my writing careers, since I keep taking serious steps in academia.

It’s change, and my teeth are already grit in defense, but it’s good for me. I guess. *yanks a figurative tooth out*