Skip Navigation
UT wordmark
College of Liberal Arts wordmark
lacs masthead
lacs masthead
Robert Vega, Director FAC 18 / 2304 Whitis Ave. Stop G6200 78712-1508 • 512-471-7900

Graduate Student Profiles - English

Meghan Andrews – Renaissance Literature
Kirby Brown – Native American and Mexican American Literatures
Louisa Hall – Renaissance Literature
Jennifer Harger – Modern British Literature
Jenny Howell – American and Modern British Literature
Jessica Shafer – Victorian Literature
Dustin D. Stewart – 18th Century English Literature

Meghan Andrews


Graduate Program: Ph.D., English, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interests: Renaissance literature, especially the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., English Literature & Religious Studies, Brown University – Providence, RI

What is life like for an English graduate student?
Being a graduate student is definitely a full-time job; in many ways, it’s even more intense, because your work comes home with you at night. I spend my evenings during the week doing work, and usually spend at least one weekend day and night (sometimes both, depending on the time of the semester) doing the same. Depending on my mood, I either work at home or go to a coffee shop. I often study with fellow grad students—if you feel like you have too much work to go out, it’s a good way to be both social and productive. However, I usually do manage to reserve one night a week to do things that aren’t school-related, even if I only have the energy to sit on the couch and watch TV. You can definitely have a social life; the important thing is just to always prioritize your work.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
While we’re in coursework, we take three seminars. They meet once a week for three hours or twice a week for an hour and a half. We also are TAs, which on a weekly basis entails attending all the professor’s lectures, leading two one-hour discussion sections, and holding office hours outside of class. I usually wake up around 9 and depending on what time I have to be on campus, either head right over or do a little work at home before I depart. I’m usually home between 4 and 5 and eat dinner around 7:30. In between, I go for a run and/or do something that’s not related to school. That way, I’ve had a little break to recharge my batteries and am refreshed enough to work for a few hours after dinner. I try to have work-free mealtimes; I almost always eat lunch with grad student friends in our lounge. I usually bring lunch to campus and cook dinner for myself at home, but about once a week I eat out (I eat out more often at the end of the semester).

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
On the professional side, I’d say the size of the department. Not only do we have an amazingly rich array of faculty to work with, our graduate students receive multiple professional opportunities that might not exist if our department was smaller. On the personal side, the camaraderie is amazing. Our graduate students are all incredibly supportive of each other and we get along fabulously. Everyone is willing to go out of his or her way to help someone else out.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My research thus far has primarily focused on gender and, to a lesser extent, sexuality in the Renaissance. Moving forward, I see myself incorporating a historical formalism, textual studies, and a dash of psychoanalytic theory into my work.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
Having just received my MA, I’m finishing up my coursework and beginning to read for the field exam, our oral comprehensive exam, the subject matter of which is tailored to each student.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
The past two years I’ve been a TA, and I’ve found it both enjoyable and rewarding. As stated above, we attend all the professor’s lectures for the class, teach two one-hour discussion sections, and hold office hours outside of class. We handle all the grading for the students in our two sections (usually 40-50 students), and usually the TAs will have at least one grading meeting per assignment with the professor. I enjoy the interaction with students as well as the connections I form with my fellow TAs. Being a TA is a nice complement to my own work. In the third year, graduate students become Assistant Instructors (AI), which for me is next year. The AI position differs from the TA position in that I will be able to teach my own class.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
Graduate school is professional training. You shouldn’t think of it as an extension of your undergraduate career; instead, you should view it as a full-time, professional job, with all that entails. You have to be on top of your game every day.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?
I wish I’d taken more language classes in undergrad.

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

  1. Check out the faculty profiles at the programs you’re interested in, and read some of the professors’ more recent work. You want to go to a school where at least one or two of the faculty share your interests, and if you read the most recent article or two from each faculty member, you’ll also have an idea of who you want to work with when you arrive. Look at the classes offered; do they teach many in your area, and do the classes sound like the kind of classes you want to be taking? You might even email one or two professors whose research interests correspond strongly to yours.
  2. If you can, talk to the program’s current graduate students. They’ll quickly give you a sense of the feel of the program and what graduate life is like there.
  3. Your undergrad professors are the best resources you have throughout the process of identifying graduate schools to apply to, applying, and choosing. Take full advantage of their knowledge—most if not all professors are more than happy to share it with a promising student.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
For my Religious Studies concentration, I had to write a capstone paper, longer than a normal seminar research paper but shorter than a traditional thesis; I wrote mine on the influence of Greek and Roman philosophical schools on the development of early Christian monastic societies. I would definitely recommend research for undergrads interested in grad school, as you’ll find that already having a strong sense of how you yourself function as a researcher is incredibly helpful. Especially so in that stressful first semester!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully teaching at a college or university.

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
Everyone has imposter syndrome (generally defined as the feeling you got in by mistake, that all your fellow students are roughly a thousand times smarter than you, etc.). Everyone. It’s not just you. On a related note, your best support system is your fellow graduate students; it’s easy to become reclusive that first semester, but the more you and your friends lean on each other, the less painful the experience will be.

Download Meghan's Profile

Louisa Hall


Graduate Program: Ph.D., English, The University of Texas at Austin; * Research Interests*: Seventeenth century poets who find interesting formal ways of distinguishing between private and public voice.

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., English, Harvard University – Cambridge, MA

What is life like for an English graduate student?
Graduate school is relatively unstructured, which is something to be aware of. As long as I make up schedules for myself I love it. Sometimes days slip away, and that’s something to try to avoid. But if I stick to a schedule, and stop at the end of the day, I could not have a better life.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I take my sweet time waking up in the morning, and then I write for a few hours. After that, I prepare for class, teach, then grade or read. If I were not working I would spend my time reading and writing. It’s a gift to be able to call your ideal day a workday.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
Definitely the teachers. I get so excited to go in to school and hear their thoughts about books. Also, I’m writing this from Wales right now, because I was given travel money to research a couple of manuscripts here. I’ve spent the last two weeks sifting through delicate old script in delicate old libraries. The English department is very supportive of its graduate students in ways I had no idea about when I came here.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
I am researching poets in the seventeenth century who find interesting formal ways of distinguishing between private and public voice. In particular, I’m thinking about women poets who use unique formal tools to move through the imposed privacy of women’s writing in order to speak more publicly. Women were expected to write from within confined spaces; the ways they use syntax, prosody, and grammar to open small spaces, or to fortify the boundaries of their proscribed spaces, are fascinating to me.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I did write an undergraduate thesis, and I’d recommend that to someone considering graduate school in literature. I would recommend any long writing projects you can get yourself involved with. The less intimidating writing feels—the more you can just sit down and write—the less painful grad school will be.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I’m done with my coursework; now I’m reading for my field exam, and slowly moving into the dissertation part of the process. I’ve loved the relatively unstructured time in which to read poetry and imagine the directions my dissertation might take.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
This year will be my first year as an AI in the English department. I’ve spent one year as an AI in the rhetoric department and two years as a TA in the English department. TAing is a joy. You get paid to go to fascinating lectures and then have two hour long conversations with bright students about those lectures. The only thing that is not a joy is grading, but really, that is a very small price to pay.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
I’ve actually had an easier time as a grad student than I did as an undergrad. As an undergrad, your focus is torn between so many different things. As a grad student, you have a much clearer idea of what you are doing in school. I took a few years off between undergrad and grad school, and that also helped me to clarify my sense of self as a student.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?
I wish I had been braver about going to teachers’ office hours. As a teacher now, I know that I love when students come to me with their particular questions and interests. At the time, I thought my extra questions would be a burden.

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

  1. I would talk to a favorite teacher about the idea. The wealth of knowledge they have about the experience—as well as the application process—can’t be gotten elsewhere.
  2. This isn’t for everyone, but I would also consider the idea of taking some time off in order to get some distance from the life of a student.
  3. Finally, I would seriously consider the faculty at the schools to which you are applying. Are there teachers there that you would like to work with? You will find teachers you love no matter where you go, but it helps the transition process if you have a few picked out from the start.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I’d like to be teaching somewhere. Hopefully with some time to write. Hopefully in a city, but I guess we can’t be too picky about these things.

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
My best experiences in school have always come out of finding teachers that I love. I would advise future grad students to be open minded about subject matter for the sake of finding teachers who think and write in ways they admire.

Download Louisa's Profile


Dustin D. Stewart

Graduate Program: Ph.D., English, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Topic: Miltonic heterodoxy and mid-18th-century English poetry

Other Degrees: M.A. and B.A., English, Baylor University – Waco, TX

What is life like for an English graduate student?
An American graduate student can look like a curious cross-breed between a full-time student and a working professional. And our field expects that we will use graduate study to learn how to carry ourselves as professionals, as more than students. We have to become competent teachers, promising scholars, and active participants in campus life. No sooner do you think you have the hang of being a good graduate student (mastering the readings, contributing to class discussions, writing solid seminar papers) than you’re reminded that you need to think of yourself as something more. Because “something more” is, in fact, what you’re here to become. Graduate study, enriching though it is, is not its own reward. This point may also serve as a mild caution for folks who see graduate school as an opportunity to extend a charmed undergraduate experience. The charms here are real, but they are quite different.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I’ll take Tuesdays this semester as an example. I teach an introduction-to-literature class at 2:00 PM, and I hold office hours for my students between 11:00 and 12:30. (I can also use some of my office hours to finish up preparations for teaching.) With these times in mind, I wake up around 6:30 or 7:00 AM, I work out in the on-site gym at my apartment complex, and I try to catch a bus to campus. (I have a car but prefer not to pay for parking near the university.) This puts me on campus by around 9. I’ll often spend that two-hour window (before office hours) either tracking down materials in the library or writing in a coffee shop. Then office hours, then lunch, then class. I might have meetings of various kinds in the late afternoon: with a committee, with a research group for the Digital Writing Research Lab, or with one of my faculty supervisors. Otherwise, more writing or checking e-mail or grading my students’ work. After I take the bus back home and have dinner, I’m not likely to do much more writing. But depending on the time of term, I probably will have a little more reading to do. Often I’ll meet up with friends to share dinner or a drink or to watch TV.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
I’m impressed by the program’s range: the sheer variety of what faculty and students work on, where they come from, why they do what they do. I guess what makes this range cool, and not just imposing, is that it doesn’t force the program to be impersonal. Certainly ours is a large program, but I’ve been pleased to discover that large doesn’t have to mean faceless.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
Scholars have done a good bit of work lately on the theology of John Milton. We now have a clear sense that some of Milton’s views departed pretty radically from the Protestant mainstream of his day. My dissertation project emerges from a desire to track those views into the following century. Numerous poets in the 1730s and ‘40s wanted to look back to Milton as a model, but they had to be careful. As a public figure he had advocated for scary ideas like divorce and revolution, and his side in England’s civil war had lost. I’m exploring how several notable writers consequently worked in their poetry and criticism to separate Milton’s poetic style (which they applauded) from his religious and political ideas (which they scorned). You might say that these writers hoped to raise Milton’s body but to keep his soul dead and buried. The trouble is, Milton didn’t think the two could be separated.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I didn’t participate in an extended research project while I was an undergraduate. However, when I served as an administrator in an honors program (before coming to UT), I worked with numerous undergrads whose research-intensive thesis projects helped them immensely as they prepared for graduate study.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I’m moving right now into candidacy. Which means that I’ve completed required coursework and defended my dissertation prospectus, a formal proposal for the project. A persistent challenge is organization. In terms of scheduling, I have to coordinate a number of different commitments (balancing meetings, research, reading, writing, and teaching). I also have to find ways to manage a project as big as a dissertation. Self-motivation and goal-setting are crucial. Sharp colleagues and strong coffee help, too.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I’m presently an assistant instructor (AI) in the English department. This semester I’m teaching an introduction-to-poetry course that I designed. The past two years I’ve been an AI in the Department of Rhetoric & Writing, teaching first-year writing courses (RHE 306) and a special-topics course (RHE 309K). Being responsible for a class--from proposing the course and developing the syllabus and assignments, to planning each class, to meeting with students and grading their work--requires a lot of time and work. But I’m grateful for the flexibility, too. I don’t teach the same class every semester, and I have the freedom to develop a few classes of my own. Our program also normally assigns AIs, in addition to their teaching, to work several hours per week in the University Writing Center or the Digital Writing and Research Lab.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
As an undergraduate I found that I could excel by making time to do the assigned work. (This wasn’t easy, given all the different pressures undergrads face.) I find that success in graduate school depends a good deal on what you do over and above the minimum assignments. Also, undergraduate courses often seem self-contained. Graduate courses, by contrast, usually assume that students are placing the material into larger contexts--the course content interacting with disciplinary problems and with each student’s distinctive research.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?
I wish I would’ve spoken with more faculty members as I made plans to apply to graduate school.

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

  1. As you think about how you want to present yourself as an applicant, try to build on what you already know. Talk to faculty mentors about some places of overlap between the stuff you’ve been doing as an undergrad (say, an economics minor) and the recent developments in your proposed field of study (say, questions about how literary works relate to financial networks).
  2. Contact at least one faculty member in each program you’re applying to. Try to talk with such people about your interests and how they fit with their departments. (Maybe even read over some of their scholarly work beforehand.) Some of your own current professors might know these folks and might help you make a preliminary connection.
  3. Be intentional about studying for the GRE, including the Literature in English subject test. Doing well can help you in ways you might not recognize.

What is one fun or interesting website you would tell a friend interested in English to check out?
The Valve – A Literary Organ

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Working at a college or university. It feels presumptuous to say so, but it would be nice if I could have tenure by then, too.

Do you have an achievement you would like to share?
Happily, a couple of articles I’ve written have been recently accepted for publication by well-regarded academic journals. The articles grew out of seminar papers, so I advise new graduate students to take their in-class writing seriously. You never know where those pieces might go.

Download Dustin's Profile

Jennifer Harger


Graduate Program: Ph.D., English, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Catholic British writers of the early 20th Century

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., English and French, Houston Baptist University – Houston, TX

What is life like for an English graduate student?
Graduate school is a consuming lifestyle; the standards are high, yet the workload is impossible to complete. In the first year especially there is a lot of turbulence and upheaval, and there is a temptation to fall into a vicious cycle of burn out/veg out/repeat. Once I realized that I simply couldn’t read—much less reflect deeply upon—every page I was assigned, I was freed to prioritize without feeling guilty. The key to balance is to decide ahead of time what is important for maintaining your own health and wholeness, and to be intentional in setting up boundaries to guard those things (certain relationships, healthy eating, hobbies, spiritual pursuits, exercise, etc.). The balance was much easier to maintain when I consciously guarded certain times for study, and certain times for personal fulfillment outside of my work.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
Most days I have some mixture of classes, teaching, and personal study; but since my individual days vary so much, I think more in terms of a typical week. I prefer to write in solitude, but I like to do my reading in the company of a friend several times a week (even friends who aren’t students will bring a book for pleasure, or other work). This helps me to connect with people even when I don’t have time for purely social activities. I also make space several times a week to cook for myself and/or friends. And finally, I try to set aside some time each week for a creative or artistic pursuit, either to do myself (such as photography), or to enjoy the work of others (like watching a play or renting a good movie).

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
Can I have two coolest things?! One is the collegial atmosphere of this program. I’ve been surprised and delighted by how supportive my fellow grad students are. Everyone I know in this program is cheerfully willing to share advice, ideas, and any other help they can offer, and I haven’t observed even a hint of envy or backbiting. The other “coolest thing” about my program is the Harry Ransom Center, an incredible collection of manuscripts, letters, photographs, and countless other objects of significance in humanities disciplines. When I first walked into an orientation for the HRC, I saw gathered in one room a letter from John Keats to his brother, a first edition of Milton, and the typed manuscript of Lucky Jim—and I felt like a kid in a candy store.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
Because I’m still in coursework, I’m not yet focusing intensively on my own research, but am still exploring topics and themes. I’m interested in Catholic British writers of the early 20th Century, particularly Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, who were writing during a period of significant cultural transition. I’m interested in how the strength of their religious tradition both complicates their places in this new modern culture, with greater diversity and fragmentation, and also gives them bearing within it.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I did not work on a research project per se, but I had excellent mentors among my undergraduate professors and benefitted from their guidance in my upper-level undergraduate research and work. I can’t comment on research projects from experience, but I think it’s always wise to pursue opportunities that will teach skills, offer experience, and build growth in areas that you know are important to you.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I am beginning my second year in the program, which means I’m still in coursework. I will also complete my Master’s Report this year, which is my first occasion to pursue my own research and writing independent of particular course requirements. I am still a TA in the midst of all that, so this season will be very full of widely divergent responsibilities and challenges. I enjoy the variety of this coming year, though, and hope it will help me avoid the temptation to obsess too much over any one aspect.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I am excited to be a TA again this year! Our responsibilities are two-fold. In our role of supporting the professor, we attend all lectures, track student attendance, administer and grade student assignments, and lead discussion sections for smaller groups of students within the larger course enrollment. Sometimes a professor invites us to teach a certain text in lecture as well, which is exhilarating, and great for professional development. In our role of helping students, we keep office hours to answer questions or work through difficult material in a more tutorial fashion. I love teaching and found this to be my one consistent source of joy and confidence throughout the turbulence of my first year. The one challenge for which I wasn’t prepared was occasionally feeling caught in the middle between a student and professor, with a responsibility to honor and advocate for both while having to enforce a decision I didn’t agree with.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
Two significant differences come to mind. I’ve already mentioned the incredibly increased workload; I don’t have the time for unhurried, thoughtful reflection that I enjoyed as an undergraduate. The other significant difference is that my undergraduate program focused so much on close reading and on the literary texts themselves, whereas grad school is heavily focused on theory and criticism.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?
I wish I had been better versed in theory and criticism before I arrived at grad school.

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

  1. Know what you want. Different programs have different strengths, from faculty specializations to research collections to travel opportunities. As you research schools and make applications, take into consideration what is most important to you, such as: working with a particular professor, having access to a particular library, or even the area of the country you wish to live and make connections in. Each of these factors is important. And apart from academic considerations, remember that grad school is a long time, so make sure you can be reasonably content living in the place you decide to go.
  2. Have real life experience. I worked for nine years before returning to school. You certainly don’t need to take that much time off, but I know in my own case I have more wisdom and a stronger sense of self than I did right out of college. My work and life experience has enriched what I bring to the table in my work for others, and in my own studies.
  3. Take charge of your own education. An undergraduate professor once told me, “Never let school get in the way of your education.” Obviously there are requirements you must follow and commitments you must be faithful to within your program, but read more and do more than simply what’s assigned. Know what you’re interested in and what enriches your mind and soul, and make time to pursue that even if it’s not part of the degree plan.

If you wouldn't have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I would have gone to the University of Dallas. Though they lack some advantages that I’m grateful for at UT, I was attracted to their classically liberal arts approach, with interdisciplinary students sharing a core reading list and early coursework together.

What is one fun or interesting website you would tell a friend interested in English to check out?
I try to avoid spending too much time online, but I enjoy Arts and Letters Daily, which is a compendium of links to interesting articles around the internet concerning literature, current events, cultural concerns, etc.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself at a teaching rather than research institution, preferably in or near a great city. My publishing will be primarily non-academic: popularly accessible books, and essays and articles in magazines such as The Atlantic. I’ve always loved the idealism of the academy, but I want to press out beyond the walls of the ivory tower and connect that idealism and energy with “the rest of the world.”

Do you have a grad school survival tip to share?
Survival tip: Practice hospitality and friendship, because people and meals shared in a home will last far longer than the work you do today. I know everyone does not agree with me, but it’s a belief I’m committed to and have seen proven true in my own life. Don’t let your work consume you, because there’s always something more you can/should do. If you wait until you’re actually “done” before you do something for yourself, for your soul, or for important relationships in your life…then you’ll never get to it, and you may not even end up with the professional goals that you sacrificed everything else to gain.

Download Jennifer's Profile

Jessica Shafer

Graduate Program: Ph.D., English, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interests: Literary and cultural representations of female education in Victorian Britain

Undergraduate Degree: M.A. and B.A., English, University of Virginia - Charlottesville, VA

What is life like for an English graduate student?
Although the lines between work, study, and ‘life’ are a bit more blurred for me than for some of my friends out in the corporate world, I really enjoy the fact that there are so many parts to my ‘work.’ I think life as an English graduate student teaches you to be flexible and keep multiple projects going at once, but also that this kind of flexibility and multi-tasking still allows for a ‘life’ inside and outside the graduate program.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
Aside from scheduled events, like classes, a typical day in the life of an English grad student is pretty unstructured. There’s a lot of time to use as you want, so a schedule or to-do list is very helpful to keep yourself on track. For example, I might spend the morning creating a lesson plan or grading assignments, attend or teach a class in the afternoon, and read or research in the evening, or I might spend most of a day on only one of those activities. Really, each day’s activities depend on my current projects and goals.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
I think that the idea of graduate school (when you’re considering it and when you’re actually in it) can be very daunting—especially in terms of learning from and working with Professors in your subject. The coolest thing about the English graduate program, in my experience, is the faculty’s level of involvement with their students. Professors are willing to share ideas, give input to projects, and to create relationships with students; they create a scholarly community that can be very fertile. Another really cool thing about UT’s graduate program is their affiliation with the Dickens Project, a multi-university research group that (among other things) hosts a yearly conference called “Dickens Universe.” At this conference professors and scholars, graduate students, undergraduate students, and literature fans of all kinds meet for a week to discuss a particular Dickens novel as well as other elements of Victorian literature and culture. It’s also great for students because of the Dickens Project’s focus on collaboration; other students and professors are excited to share scholarly ideas as well as survival tips and tricks of the trade.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My research focuses on literary and cultural representations of female education in Victorian Britain. I’m interested in how girls and women are depicted as learning and teaching, as well as how these depictions comment on ideas of femininity or womanhood. I also see my work incorporating historical and cultural questions into readings of literature.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I didn’t work on a research project as an undergraduate, but I would recommend it! Tackling a project is a good way to figure out how you work in a particular field and to learn new skills that are part of participating in a particular field of study. I learned a lot about myself as a student, researcher, and writer as I wrote my MA thesis!

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I passed the field exam, an area-specific, comprehensive oral exam, at the end of the spring semester, so now I’m working on my prospectus, which is the formal proposal for my dissertation project. Since I started the PhD program here at UT after completing my MA at another school, I’m on a bit of a different schedule than the typical program sequence, which means I’m also finishing up my coursework this semester.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I am currently an AI for the English department and for the past 2 years I served as an AI for the Department of Rhetoric and Writing. As an AI, I’m responsible for the entire course, from creating the syllabus to grading the assignments; the responsibility is exciting and sometimes exhausting, but it’s all worth it! Teaching is one of my favorite elements of my graduate school experience because I get to encourage discussion on great books or topics and to share ideas with bright students.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
The major difference between graduate study and undergraduate study, I’ve found, is the fact that graduate study is meant as preparation for a specific end in a way that undergraduate study often isn’t. As an undergraduate, I felt that each course I took would teach me different skills and had its own goal. As a graduate student, I see that each course and each project feeds into the same goal—I’m still learning new skills as I go, but I’m using these new skills together to become a member of the scholarly community.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?
As an undergrad, I was pretty shy about going to office hours or talking with a professor after class, even when I had an idea or question that I wanted to talk about. I wish I had been more confident about approaching professors—it’s a great way to build relationships that will help you as a student and help you think about graduate school.

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

  1. Research, research, research. Try to get an idea of who on the faculty works in the areas in which you’re interested. Who might you want to take classes from? Who might be your advisor? Also, research the program’s and the school’s resources. Do they have an amazing library system? Do they have access to materials, people, or other assets that will enhance your studies?
  2. Talk with faculty members and graduate students at your current school and, if possible, at schools to which you’re applying or considering. Get their take on the work, the atmosphere of the program, and how your goals and ideas fit with graduate studies.
  3. Keep an open mind. Your areas of interest, your goals, or your outlook may change as you develop as a person and as a scholar. Don’t feel locked into the mindset you’re in as you apply to programs.

If you wouldn't have accepted the UT Austin offer, what was your #2 choice?
My second choice was the University of Georgia.

What is one fun or interesting website you would tell a friend interested in English to check out?
I check Arts and Letters Daily every morning. It’s a gateway to book reviews and articles about anything from 18th century travel writing to current economic policy. New articles are added daily and, while the site is run by the Chronicle of Higher Education, a publication devoted to news and issues about higher education, there is a wide range of topics and viewpoints showcased on the site. It’s kind of a grab-bag, but I almost always find an interesting article or book to investigate.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I’d like to be teaching, hopefully at a college or university.

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
Don’t be shy! Think of everyone you meet as a potential resource, from professors to other graduate students and anyone in between. Plus, graduate work can often seem lonely (reading or writing alone in a library or coffee shop), but connecting with friends and colleagues will make grad school seem much more collaborative and fun.

Download Jessica's Profile

Kirby Brown


Graduate Program: Ph.D., English, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation: “Stoking the Fire: Nationhood in Early Twentieth Century Cherokee Writing”

Other Degrees: M.A., English, University of Texas at San Antonio; B.A., Biology, The University of Texas at Austin

What is life like for an English graduate student?
It's demanding and challenging, but also highly rewarding. Boning up your time management chops is a must, since early in the graduate program you're juggling a full load of coursework, term papers, teaching assistantships, and service work. And, of course, you've got your health and social/family life to consider, depending on your circumstances. Maintaining a good balance between all aspects of your life is a must, as neglecting one element of your life over others often leads to frustration and burnout. This is probably the hardest thing to get a hold of early on, but the benefits really are indescribable.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
Well, I'm a morning person, so my day starts kind of early. I get up, walk the dog, have a cup of joe, and then hit the ground running. In coursework, you'll meet for each of your three classes twice a week for an hour and a half, attend lectures for which you're TA-ing or teaching, and more than likely have another few meetings with other interest and service organizations that you're involved in. There always seem to be awesome lectures and presentations happening, so you'll probably try and catch these whenever you can. Though I could probably go solid through the day from sunup to sundown, I've decided to treat school like an 8-6 job, making sure to give myself time to take care of my health and hang with my family and friends. All work and no play makes the graduate student insane...

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
I would have to say the opportunity to work with super supportive, brilliant scholars—both faculty and other graduate students—who are interested in what I'm doing and more than willing to give advice or assistance when asked. The English department also provides some of the best professional training in the country, allowing grad students a variety of opportunities to grow professionally as well as intellectually. By the time you graduate, you'll likely have had opportunities to serve as a research assistant, teaching assistant, instructor of record in rhetoric and writing, instructor of record in the English department, editorial assistant, and assistant director in the English and Rhetoric departments.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
“Stoking the Fire: Nationhood in Early Twentieth Century Cherokee Writing” I like to say I came to my topic about two hundred years ago when a Pennsylvania Quaker named Caleb Starr moved to the Cherokee Nation in what is today the state of Tennessee and married into a prominent Cherokee family. His great grandson, Henry Starr, was my grandfather and was born into the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory in 1907, months before Oklahoma became a state. When I was growing up, he used to tell my cousins and me stories about his life in Indian Territory, and we'd return with him to visit periodically for summer vacations. As a grew older, I gained an interest in that part of my family's history, and when I made the decision to return to graduate school after being away from the academy for a few years, I gravitated to American Indian literatures. I am particularly fascinated with the ways in which Cherokee and other Native writers thought about, imagined, and wrote nationhood in the early twentieth century.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I am currently in candidacy, which means I've finished all my course requirements, passed my qualifying exams, had my prospectus approved, and am now writing my dissertation. In many ways, the dissertation is more difficult than coursework, not only because I'm now doing original research and writing, but also because there are no “official” deadlines to keep me focused and on task. I'm learning (slowly!) to be more self-motivated and to break down large projects like dissertation chapters into their constituent tasks!

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I've been a TA, GRA, and AI. Depending on the instructor you're assigned to, as a TA in the English department, you'll generally be responsible for attending class lectures, taking great notes, preparing and supervising a weekly discussion section, holding office hours and grading exams and papers. Graduate research assistants are generally assigned to a professor or two and work with them in various stages of their research, including everything from putting together research bibliographies and tracking down sources to securing permissions and editing manuscripts. In my case, I twice served as an editorial assistant with Studies in American Indian Literatures, focusing specifically on production logistics and taking each issue from rough manuscript to finished product. As an assistant instructor, or instructor of record, the training wheels come off and you're on your own in front of bright eyed and bushy (or barbed) tailed students. Though it can be stressful structuring the course, choosing your texts, and making up your first syllabus, and while the responsibilities of the course are solely your own, the freedom the department gives you is awesome and, from what I understand, relatively unique among major Universities.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
I'd have to say the intellectual and logistic demands graduate school brings with it present the greatest challenges to undergraduate students and are probably the most difficult adjustments they have to make. For those going directly into grad school, this might be less of an adjustment than for those, like me, who were out of the system for a while before returning. The key to handling these demands, I believe, is to have accurate and informed expectations when you come in and to have at least the beginnings of a solid time management system up and running that works for you.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?
When I was heading off to college as an undergrad years ago, I told one of my high school coaches that I was thinking about walking on with the football program. Though he noted that my lack of height, size, and speed would make it really difficult for me, he said that if I was truly committed to football as a central part of my life I would probably be able to make the team. I quickly realized that it wasn't centrally important to me and saved myself the time of investing in something that wasn't really what I wanted. I see grad school in much the same light. It's not necessarily something you do because you don't have another plan, although some have and have succeeded greatly. Generally speaking, though, I think grad school is something you have to know you want, if only because it becomes a great part of your life over the next few years. It also helps to give a flip about what you're examining. If you care about and are deeply invested in your topic, the research and writing becomes a joy rather than a chore.

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

  1. First, I'd make sure the program fits them and their research interests. Check out the department's web page and get to know the kinds of courses they offer and the research interests of the faculty. While finding exact matches is ideal, also consider the ways in which course offerings and faculty interests parallel your intellectual interests. One great thing about grad school is being exposed to different ideas, methods and approaches and allowing yourself to go into unfamiliar but intellectually exciting territory.
  2. I'd also check on opportunities for professional development, especially if you're planning on continuing as a teacher and researcher. You want a program that offers plenty of opportunities in teaching, research, editing journals, and service work, all of which are important considerations for potential academic employers.
  3. Finally, take the initiative to get to know some faculty and current students. Ask them about their experiences, their likes and dislikes, and where they see the program going. Grad school is challenging enough without throwing yourself into a dysfunctional situation.

If you wouldn't have accepted the UT Austin offer, what other universities would you have considered?
Well, as a Native Americanist, I probably would have considered Universities with strong Native Studies programs, those that staffed strong Native studies faculty whose work I respect and draw upon, or those in close proximity to Native communities. Right now, UCLA, and the Universities of Minnesota, Illinois, Oklahoma, and New Mexico come to mind. There is also important work for Native scholars in Arizona right now, so the University of Arizona and Arizona State might also be considerations. I also have colleagues at schools in the Pacific northwest who are able to do great scholarship and connect it with community service work which is exciting.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope to be doing responsible work in the academy as a teacher and researcher serving students from working class and underserved communities, and being intimately plugged into local Indian communities and putting my work to use for them as best I can. Whether that's at a research one institution, a small state school, or a tribal college is anyone's guess. Wherever I wind up is exactly where I'm supposed to be.

Do you have a grad school survival tip you would like to share?
The best advice I've ever received is to learn to be comfortable with my own average. For the overachieving, perfectionist-oriented grad student, this probably sounds counterintuitive. However, like anything in life, it's easy to get consumed with your work and ignore other equally important areas of your emotional, physical and spiritual health. So, figure out what your own average is (which for most grad students will be pretty darned good) and allow yourself to be comfortable at times being average. This doesn't mean you can't shoot for greatness; it just means that you'll keep yourself grounded in the knowledge that “good” happens way more frequently than “great,” and good is, well, a pretty huge accomplishment on most days.

Download Kirby's Profile

Jenny Howell


Graduate Program: Ph.D., English, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interests: Women's writing in the 20th century

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., English, Baylor University – Waco, TX

What is life like for an English graduate student?
Life as an English graduate student is more than a full-time job. It can easily become an all-day-every-day consuming lifestyle. Grad school--in any field, I think--encourages an unbalanced existence. There isalways something more that can be read, studied, researched, or edited, and it is a skill to be able to make yourself turn it all off and nurture parts of your life that have nothing to do with school (health, relationships, hobbies, etc.)

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
My daily routine usually consists of waking up around 9 (or 10, if I'm particularly tired) and getting some work done. Then I head to school around noon since I usually have afternoon classes. I attend lectures, seminars, etc., and then am usually home around 6 or 7. At that point, I try to cook myself something quickly. Cooking is so important because it is a time for me to concentrate on something that has nothing to do with literature! Then it's reading and writing until I go to bed, usually around midnight or 1. Since I am easily distracted if I'm with other people, I tend to stay at home to get my work done, but I try to leave the house at least once after I return from school to go for a walk, to visit a friend, or simply to run errands.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The thing that I am most grateful for is the camaraderie within the program. Before coming to graduate school, I had heard horror stories about the competition and sabotage that goes on in some programs. Here at UT, my classmates are helpful, kind, and fun. I am able to ask what I sometimes think of as "silly questions" without feeling inferior. And, even better, that sense of camaraderie extends to the relationships between faculty and students. I could not be more pleased with how helpful and supportive my English professors and advisers have been.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
Since it's only my second year in the program, I don't have a well-defined research topic, but I am broadly interested in women's writing in the 20th century. I like to think in particular about the relationship between women writers and the traditional roles of women. In what ways do female authors envision their characters escaping the conventional roles of wife and mother? How do female authors themselves combat those stereotypes?

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
As an undergraduate, I researched how two different novels--Ian McEwan'sSaturday and Don DeLillo's Falling Man--depicted the trauma of 9/11. I would absolutely recommend doing a research project as an undergrad. Not only is it great experience for formulating a larger research project like a thesis or dissertation, but it also will ease the pain of writing a graduate school application essay and will make you feel more at ease writing longer seminar papers of 15 to 20 pages.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
At this point, I'm halfway to my M.A., so I'm still doing a full load of coursework (9 hours). Next semester, I'll be taking 6 hours and writing my Master's Report, which is our version of the master's thesis.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
Last year I was a TA for Masterworks of American Literature (E316K), and I had to attend lectures twice a week and then lead two discussion sections once a week. Although being a TA adds to my workload, I genuinely enjoy discussing texts with my students and hearing what they think about the assigned reading. Our discussions often helped me think about a text in a completely different way. This semester, however, things are different. I am a TA in an upper-level literature course, and I no longer teach any discussion sections. I am responsible for grading exams and essays and keeping track of attendance. I only meet with the students when they have questions or concerns about the course. Although the lighter workload allows me to concentrate on my own studies, I miss getting to know each student in the class personally!

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
For me at least, I feel more pressure in grad school to supplement my education outside my classes than I did as an undergrad. It often helps to readabove and beyond the syllabus. Over the summer and on weekends I try to rework papers I have written, expanding them with additional research in order to submit them for publication. Success in a graduate program has little to do with simply fulfilling the requirements of each course as it did when I was an undergrad; instead, it depends on viewing a course as a starting point and continuing your education from there.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?
I wish I had read more literary and critical texts outside of class so that I would be more comfortable reading and interpreting texts on my own.

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

  1. Develop a strong point of view. I don't think that any graduate program expects you to have a dissertation idea ready when you apply, but I think they all respect individuals who have done good research, have a particular critical point of view, and can envision themselves "specializing" in a certain area. Sure, it's great if you love all modern literature, but think of a niche you can carve out for yourself. Maybe it's the way that technology is represented in modern British literature or something equally compelling.
  2. Do your research on graduate schools and what they have to offer. Do not be daunted by the number of schools out there; take the time to really check out English grad programs and make sure you're getting what you want. Think about funding and location, of course, since those are major concerns. Most importantly, though, find faculty with whom you can see yourself working. Although you should have a clear vision of what you want to study, keep in mind that your focus might change. It never hurts to look for programs that have faculty with a wide range of interests. If you have the courage, the best way to research a program is to contact one of the professors and talk to him or her about your interests and how they might fit into the department at the school you are considering.
  3. Talk to your undergrad professors. They are by far the best resource you have. Ask them where they went to school, what their experience was like, if they know any professor or student in a certain program, etc. Most professors are more than willing to help students who express a strong interest in going to graduate school.

If you wouldn't have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
Probably the University of Virginia or Boston University. When I came to visit UT during a recruitment event, however, I loved the atmosphere of the program, and I knew that I wanted to be here.

What is one fun or interesting website you would tell a friend interested in English to check out?
Well, since I have a feminist bent, I often read Jezebel, which keeps me up to date with articles and news aimed specifically at women. It also has lots of fun stories and editorials.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully, teaching and continuing to research at a small liberal arts school.

Do you have an achievement you would like to share?
Happily, I was recently named the 2010 Outstanding Teaching Assistant in the English Department. I think my award was a product of my honest passion for reading and thinking about literature and for encouraging my students to enjoy those activities, too. I would advise you not to lose sight of the reason you came to graduate school in the first place! With so much stress and pressure and work, it's sometimes difficult to remember what you love doing and to be grateful that you have the opportunity and luxury to explore literature and ideas!

Download Jenny's Profile

bottom border