Periodically, students ask for advice on whether or not to pursue a graduate degree in English. I always direct them to read Rebecca Schuman’s Slate article, “Thesis Hatement” and William Pannapacker’s Chronicle of Higher Education article, “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go.”
That being said, if you are a student of color, a first-generation college student, or someone else who is underrepresented in the academy, I want you to know that we need you.
To quote Dr. Steven Salaita, a professor of American Indian Studies,
I will never discourage young people of color from pursuing careers in academe, but there are some things they ought to know at the outset, especially those who refuse to hide their politics:
Plan on twice the work. Plan on twice the publishing. Plan on twice the committee obligations. Plan on twice the networking. Plan on twice the student mentoring. Plan on twice the headaches. Plan on twice the hostility. Plan on expressing half as many emotions.
And then plan on getting passed over for jobs, promotions, grants, and awards in favor of unthreatening mediocrities.
If, like me, you are determined to go to grad school despite everyone’s warnings, I recommend that you focus on writing a terrific statement of purpose and honing your writing sample. I’ve read many terrible statements of purpose that go on and on about how much the candidate loves books and always wanted to read/write/teach. PhD programs don’t care. This is a professional document and should show you are serious about your scholarly agenda. Berkeley’s Career Center has a helpful guide here.
Once you’re in graduate school, I highly recommend Dr. Karen Kelsky’s website, “The Professor is In,” for advice on navigating department politics, the academic job market, and more.