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Graduate Student Profiles - Classics

Stephanie Craven - Philology

Stephanie Craven

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Classics, The University of Texas at Austin

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Classical Languages and Literature, Italian Minor, University of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, PA

What is life like for a classics graduate student?
I spend most of my evenings working, and I also take a good chunk out of either Saturday or Sunday as well (or both, depending on the time of the semester). I have friends with whom I regularly study, and end up in coffee shops where the baristas pretty well know who we are. We do find ways to de-stress, whether it's playing on the departmental softball team, or sharing a pitcher of beer at the Flying Saucer afterwards. Many of my friends have had successful relationships, although I do think it's easier if you started out with someone rather than trying to find one as a grad student. While you can have a great time with other people in the department, I think it is worth trying to cultivate friends who are outside of the department, if for no other reason than to stop yourself from talking "shop" all the time.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I tend to get up around 8 or 9, depending on what's on for the day, and pack a lunch and gym clothes to go to school. When I don't have to be at school I go find myself a coffee shop, or try to get non-school things done. Last semester and this upcoming semester I have my own Latin class five days a week, so that brings me to school every day. A couple days a week I also have seminars; most will be 3 hours one day a week, with some 2 sessions of 1.5 hours. I find it best to schedule at least one non-school work day to prepare for seminars, if you can manage it.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
Well, since getting to go to Greece and Italy are par for a graduate program in Classics... potluck dinners.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My MA report was on koinodikion, an institution in Hellenisitic (3rd-1st C BCE) Crete. We're not sure what it is -- in fact, the paper attempted to define it -- but it appears to be a court set up to handle cases for citizens from different cities, and that it had something to do with the Cretan Koinon, which was the (sometime) federal government of Crete. Most of my sources were inscriptions and the historian Polybius.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad?
I worked as a research assistant in undergrad for a professor of Religious Studies; my own work on the side was on Alcuin of York and his Commentarium in Johannem. It ended up only producing two research papers, but I still think it was pretty useful. If you are an undergraduate who wants to go to graduate school, your life will be so much easier of paper-writing is something you've been doing, and not just starting.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I'm just starting my 4th year at UT. I finished my MA last year, and I'm still working on coursework and finishing exams for the PhD program.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I have been a TA for 6 courses, and an AI for one. The TA role varies depending on the professor; some have a routine, and don't want you to deviate from it, just grade and hand back papers. Others will let you have an active role, whether by letting you give a lecture or having you write questions for the exam or teach review sessions. They can also range from scantron grading to grading essay exams. As an AI, I had a set curriculum that I ran with two other Latin AIs, which was overseen by a professor who also acted as an advisor. It can be a lot of fun, but it's definitely a little scary to see what beginning students will remember when you yourself are a beginning teacher!

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
My undergrad program actually prepared me pretty well for the grad program: I had a lot of small seminars and wrote research papers then. For me, the biggest hurdle was time management. I was a really bad procrastinator who could do good work on short notice, and so part of the experience of grad school has been realizing the consequences of my bad planning and learning to deal with it.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
My one regret is that I didn't do a field school as an undergraduate. Even if you are a literature person, you never know if that might not come in handy later on. Additionally, as a beginning graduate student, I wish I had thought a lot more strategically about how to prepare myself for exams; I should have waited to take courses that I "wanted" to take, and taken courses that would have helped me get those exams out of the way.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a classics program?

  1. Make sure you've got your languages under your belt.
  2. Be practiced in the art of the research paper.
  3. Keep an open mind -- most people begin grad school when they're still growing as a person, and the project you may choose at the end could be totally unrelated to the one you thought you would do in your first year.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I was wait-listed at UC Berkeley, but ultimately felt like Texas was a better fit in the long run. I also liked Princeton, which was close to home (I'm from NJ), but found it a little less interdisciplinary than what I was looking for.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in classics to check out?
If you know Greek, the Packard Humanities Institute has a huge number of inscriptions online; most inscriptions cited in scholarly texts can be viewed here, and you can also see them with and without the holes in the text.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Employed? --It's not that I'm not optimistic, I just don't believe in tempting the gods...

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
If, as an undergraduate, you are thinking about a program like the Centro or the American School or CYA, by all means, do it! I did the Centro as an undergrad and the American School my first year in graduate school. Not only will you make some very good friends, but these will also be the people who you will see at conferences, and possibly be professional contacts in the future. I apologize for talking about networking the way business schools do, but there are a lot of good reasons to do this:

  1. interacting with people in other programs will give you a sense of how other departments are from an undergraduate perspective; for instance, if someone is doing something you think is interesting, you can ask what their advisor is like and whether that advisor sounds like someone you might want to work with;
  2. it makes conferences a lot more fun -- I was pleasantly surprised to go to my first American Philological Association conference and see so many people that I knew from my travels; and
  3. for crying out loud, it's Greece/Italy. At least you can say you've been there, you know the rough distances between cities via tour bus, and the taste of ouzo/cheap Italian table wine. And you can bond over adversity -- sleeplessness, hunger, bad plumbing, and that time you didn't get to go to the beach because your nutty professor had you clambering over brambles and scrub brush in search of some otherwise unknown tomb that turned out to be fenced off with razor wire and you got to stand there with him as he contemplated how to climb over it. (True story. The beach was called "Fun Beach".)

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