Perspectives on Life After Graduation

Emily Russell, assistant professor of English

Interview by Emily Beardsley '10

Consider Risks

Submitting a grad school application or applying for a job in your field is a huge risk. Unfortunately, there is a possibility that after showcasing your best work and accomplishments, you could still be denied placement in your program of choice; or worse, that a hard-earned degree won’t pay off. Professor Russell had to consider the job markets for her partner in the cities where she applied and knew that her own job placement would be extremely competitive. Nonetheless, she chose to pursue the degree she was passionate about. It was taking this risk that resulted in her fulfilling career in both teaching and scholarship.

Reach Up

While it’s crucial to think realistically when applying for grad school, Russell stressed the importance of reaching toward higher-ranking schools. Addressing academia’s highly competitive job market, she suggested talking to professors and using publications like US News and World Report to find and apply to the top-rated schools for your specific field of study. She added that while such elitism may be harsh, the stark realities of the length of commitment to graduate school in the humanities (typically 5-7 years) and the lack of clear alternate paths after graduation (a Ph.D. qualifies you for little else than college teaching) means that applicants need to think carefully about future prospects. A round of unsuccessful applications to top-tier doctoral programs might point students toward a master’s degree—a stepping stone where you can gain experience teaching and doing graduate level research.

The Big Picture

In completing a grad school application packet, Russell reminded students to think about the big picture—specifically with an entrance essay. Universities are considering not only your admission, but also the possibility of grants and scholarships. They are providing the basic groundwork for your career and indirectly a salary, 401K, and retirement package. She summed it up by asking, “If someone promised to give you $100,000 for writing a 2-page essay, how hard would you work on it?”