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Robert Vega, Director FAC 18 / 2304 Whitis Ave. Stop G6200 78712-1508 • 512-471-7900

Graduate Student Profiles - French & Italian

Lynn Abell – Italian, Modern Italian Literature
Michael Gott – French, Francophone Cinema, Literature and Culture
Kelle Keating – French, North American Dialects of French
Jennifer Moen – French, Historical Linguistics
Matt Rabatin – Italian, Early 20th Century Italian Literature

Kelle Keating

Kelle au Nouveau-Brunswick, CanadaKelle au Nouveau-Brunswick, Canada
Graduate Program: Ph.D., French Linguistics, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Language Attitudes of Speakers of Chiac, an Acadian French Dialect

Other Degrees: M.A., French Linguistics, Arizona State University – Tempe, AZ; B.A., French, Arizona State University – Tempe, AZ

What is grad school life like?
For one thing, French graduate students are expected to demonstrate a high degree of proficiency in French, both spoken and written. A lot of us who are not native speakers have spent time abroad, so the speaking isn’t always a problem, but writing in French at the academic level can be a challenge! I learned that even as a student who earned As as an undergrad, there is absolutely no shame in asking a native speaker to look over my papers. I also found out recently that even the professors do that!

The field of linguistics also comes with its own set of challenges. Most grad programs in linguistics require you to take a broad overview of courses in multiple areas of linguistics. I can guarantee you that you aren’t going to love all of them, and it’s tough sometimes to find the drive to push through those courses that aren’t your best subjects. Yeah, this happens even in grad school.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I entered my program as a Ph.D. student, so I can only speak to that experience here at UT. We are required to take 9 graduate credits, and we either teach 5 or 6 credits per semester. So, a typical day of a doctoral student who is still working on coursework involves running from prepping to teach, to teaching classes, to taking grad classes, with grading during free time. Then, at least for me, most of the work I did on my own projects happened in the evening. Finally you sleep, and then you get up and do it again. In my experience, a “typical day” involves a lot of caffeine to keep up the fast pace!

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The coolest thing I’ve experienced during my time in grad school at UT is the level of interest and dedication that our professors demonstrate for their students. I noticed this in talking to my department’s professors when I came to do my campus visit, before I chose UT. It was one of the main reasons I ended up coming to UT. The professors I’ve interacted with have all shown a genuine desire to push me to achieve the best of my ability, even while still keeping up their own research and writing. They’ve let me explore my own ideas, but they’re good about keeping me on the right track, too. I’d have to say that this investment that my professors have made into my education has had a direct impact on who I am as a scholar.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
I’m particularly interested in North American dialects of French, and I’m just starting my dissertation. It’s on the language attitudes of a group of speakers of a dialect of French called Chiac, and it’s spoken in a French-English bilingual region in Southeast of New Brunswick, Canada. (Yes, they do speak French outside of Québec!) I have to go there soon to do my fieldwork, which will involve personally interviewing people there, as well as observing them in everyday life.

What is it like as a graduate student in candidacy?
This is a great question! I’ve just passed my comprehensive exams and so have passed into candidacy, and I’ve recently been thinking about how weird it feels in some ways. I remember when I entered my Master’s program, some people in classes would quote random researchers, and I felt completely lost and sometimes even dumb. Now that I’ve reached the end of my Ph.D. coursework, I have found that I am now that person who quotes random researchers. I feel like, in some ways, I am very close to “becoming one of them” (a professor), but in other ways, it’s scary to think about being recognized as a scholar on my own merit.

Do you work in your department?
I’m an AI; I teach first or second-year French courses. I love teaching; I actually started teaching undergrad French at Arizona State during my M.A. program, and my love for teaching college students is why I’m here doing a Ph.D. It’s fun for me to interact with students who are breaking away from the pressures of the high school social world and beginning to discover themselves as individuals.

I am assigned to teach different courses pretty much every semester. It has a lot to do with how my graduate course schedule coincides with the lower-division course offerings. 2nd year language courses meet 3 days a week, but 1st year courses meet 5 days a week, which is a lot of “face time” with my students. Needless to say, we get to know each other very well. I’m given a departmental syllabus to follow, but preparing to teach every day and all the classroom administrative stuff is my responsibility. I’ll say that your first semester teaching, in addition to balancing a graduate-level course schedule, is very overwhelming and tiring. Then there’s also the fact that you’re now the instructor of record on an undergrad course, which is overwhelming at first.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
It has a lot to do with responsibility. As an undergrad, if you want to skip class or slack off on work every once in a while, it’s no huge deal. Your grade may suffer for it, but you’ll still graduate if you have a few Cs on your transcripts. In grad school, however, the pressure to perform at high levels is intense, and you really shouldn’t even be getting Bs in too many of your classes, or it’s viewed quite badly. Ultimately, with a graduate degree from a department, you are the representative of that department to other academic institutions, and your performance in your coursework is in some ways also measured by this standard. Are you worthy to bear their stamp of approval?

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
Form relationships with professors in your field. Go to office hours even if you don’t need help. Professors have a lot of knowledge, even beyond what they talk about in class, and even if you go to office hours just to chat, you can learn a lot from them. Ask them about their research—they love that! It’s important to see what it’s like to be a scholar before you take the plunge of deciding that you would like to be more deeply involved in that world.

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

  1. Make sure you take 4 semesters of another foreign language, besides French, as an undergrad. It saves you much time later on. I didn’t know this, and it put me behind when I got here.
  2. Try not to transfer programs in between the M.A. and Ph.D. level. I did it, because ASU didn’t have a Ph.D. program. I’ve learned, though, that pretty much any program is going to require you to make up some sort of pre-reqs at the Ph.D. level if you weren’t in their M.A. program. This is to ensure that everybody in their program has the same basic knowledge of theory. I’m glad I took the courses that I did, but it did take me about a year longer to get through my coursework than it should have.
  3. Talk to the grads currently in the programs where you’re applying, or recent grads. They will be honest with you about their program’s advantages and disadvantages. Also, ask the graduate admissions representative where their program’s recent grads have gotten hired. If they’re not sure, then you need to seriously rethink going there if you’re ultimately interested in a well-placed job.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I was strongly considering going to Louisiana State University, because their French department has a strong emphasis on North American French Linguistics. Indiana University in Bloomington also has a well-respected program in North American French Linguistics, but I didn’t want to live in the snow!

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in French studies to check out?
I gotta give a shout-out to Acadieman! He is le first superhero Acadien. I was able to interview his creator, Dano LeBlanc, when I visited New Brunswick in June 2009, and it is really amazing what a cultural phenomenon Acadieman is becoming, on a local, as well as an international scale. The characters in Acadieman speak Chiac, which has a lot of English influence on vocabulary. This is one of the reasons that the show is controversial for some people, because they think it’s promoting the use of ‘incorrect’ language. As a sociolinguist, of course, I don’t take that position. At any rate, every episode I’ve seen so far makes me laugh out loud at some point, and the show is also a great window into the Acadian culture of the Canadian Maritimes.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
By that time, I hope to be a tenured professor of French, either at a Research I institution, such as UT, or at a smaller Liberal Arts college. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but the job market will ultimately dictate where I end up.

Do you a grad school survival tip to share?
Don’t stop doing what you love, whether sports or music or art—whatever it is, because you don't think you have the time. It’s these extracurricular activities that bring balance and sanity to a busy grad student’s life. I grew up figure skating, and I learned in grad school that if I don’t skate on a regular basis, I get really grouchy! Don’t forget about your friends, either—it happens faster than you’d think when you get busy and stressed. Without a doubt, my family, friends, and faith have kept me grounded through this experience, and I definitely wouldn’t have made it so far without them.

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Lynn Abell


Graduate Program: Ph.D., Italian, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Italian Literature

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Italian & Economics, New York University – New York, NY

What is grad school life like?
I enjoy life as a grad student. I have always thought of school as my job, and now that’s really the case. The students all take their studies seriously, but at the same time we have a lot of fun. I haven’t had too much of a problem balancing my workload and my personal life, but at the same time, I’ve never been much of a procrastinator.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
In a given semester, you will normally take 3 classes, or 9 hours. Most graduate classes meet two times a week for 1.5 hours, or once a week for 3 hours. Your schedule each semester may not be as flexible as you would like, because there are fewer course choices given that each program is very specialized. But at the same time, having blocked classes makes it easier for you to study on your own time. Here is a typical class day:

  1. Wake up early to run (see, it is possible to have hobbies outside of grad school!)
  2. Get to campus around 10:30am and review readings for the day, if you have the time
  3. Three classes from 11:00am-6:00pm with a few breaks in between
  4. Come home and have dinner, relax, and do some reading for the next class day

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
I don’t know if I can pick one single thing! I get to combine my love for Italian and my love for the University of Texas. I also get paid to study and make a career out of something I love to do. And of course, I get to learn with professors and students who are just as passionate as I am.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
Because I am still in the first year of the program, I haven’t yet begun any research. However, two term papers I completed this fall for the Italian department were entitled “Infernal Use and Misuse of Color” and “La funzione del lettore interno (narratee) in Quaderni di Serafino Gubbio Operatore e Uno, nessuno e centomila.” The first paper discusses distorted uses of the Christian Theological Virtues in Dante’s Inferno, and the second examines the various roles of the narratee in two of Luigi Pirandello’s novels.

Where are you in the grad school sequence?
I just finished my first semester of the M.A. program. Right now I am just doing coursework, but next year I will begin work on either a thesis or a report. After my second year, I hope to continue work with the department and begin the Ph.D.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
This semester I was lucky enough to be chosen by the Central Graduate Admissions committee as a Preemptive Fellow. This means that for this year I don’t have any teaching role with the department, although I am really looking forward to that. Because I don’t have any teaching obligations, I will be taking a fourth class this spring to get some extra credits out of the way.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
The biggest difference between graduate school and undergrad is the amount of reading. You will be surprised at the number of books you will be checking out from the library and the vast amounts of material you will have read by the end of each semester. Also, I think you take papers and research much more seriously. The attitude from undergrad to graduate school really changes, but in a good way. Everyone really wants to be in every class, because this is going to be your profession.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I wish I would have thought about Italian grad school when I was a senior in college. I think too many students think about choosing a career that will make them money, rather than one that will make them happy. Don’t be afraid to follow your passion in life, no matter how obscure it might seem to others…you will be so much happier in the end!

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

  1. This might seem silly, but be sure you meet all the deadlines and complete all the paperwork. Don’t procrastinate with your applications.
  2. Take as many courses in your subject area and try to pursue an independent research with your department.
  3. Make yourself stand out! What makes you special compared to all the other kids applying for the spot?

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I completed an undergraduate honors thesis at NYU entitled “Cesare Pavese and The Literary Masquerade: Overturning Accepted Notions of Gender in La bella estate and Tra donne sole.” Cesare Pavese was a post-war author who had often been labeled by critics as a misogynist. I looked at two of his works and tried to reexamine that conception. I definitely recommend research. Not only was it one of the single-most fulfilling experiences of my life, but it’s a great way to show graduate programs that you are capable of completing a full-sized research paper. After all, writing articles is a huge part of life both as a graduate student and as a professor.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I actually didn’t apply to other Italian programs because I was already here at UT with the law school. If I decide to finish the J.D. as well, I really need to stay here in Austin. I love Texas though, so it is a great fit for me! Of course, NYU, UCLA, and Berkeley all have great programs just to name a few! You should also look around to see if a professor you would like to work with during your graduate school years is with a particular university.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in Italian to check out?
To keep up with the news, I like to browse through Corriere della Sera. If you’re interested in finding some books for your Italian classes, or just doing a little pleasure reading or buying some original-language DVDs, you have to check out the Internet Bookstore. It’s a life-saver!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Actually, I would love to be an Italian professor! I’m not sure where I would like to be working, but I really enjoy (and always have enjoyed) the academic life. I love learning, researching, and writing, and I’m sure I will be a great teacher.

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Matt Rabatin


Graduate Program: Ph.D., Italian, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Role of subaltern, marginalized communities in literature of theMezzogiorno

Other Degrees: M.A., Italian Language and Literature & B.A., French and Italian Languages and Literature, University of Pittsburgh – Pittsburgh, PA

What is grad school life like?
Life as an Italian Studies grad student is very, very full! I cannot stress enough the fact that you’ll need to organize and prioritize your life in order to be successful (and to keep your head on straight)! Even though I may only take 9 credits a semester, I consider attending class, completing my assignments, and preparing/teaching my lessons my full time job. As a grad student if you return home and think that there is nothing to do that night for your courses or teaching appointments, think again! Getting ahead in assignments/lesson planning can be extremely beneficial to you, especially towards the end of the semester when you are writing research papers. I do think, however, that it is very important to keep a balance between grad school and your personal life. Don’t let the first one take over! If you want to go out with friends on a Friday or Saturday night, then do it! You must enjoy yourself and have fun. Otherwise, you’ll run out of steam before you’ve even begun.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I usually wake up around 7:30 (sometimes a lot later!) in order to catch the UT shuttle from my apartment to campus. Once I arrive at school, I take time to prepare/finalize my lessons for the day and then teach from one to two hours depending on the day. I usually attend class from as little as two and a half to as much as five hours on any given day. If I have a break between teaching and attending class, I refuel with some coffee and try to complete as many assignments as possible. I usually return home by 4:00pm to finish any readings that I may have for the upcoming days, make dinner, and spend time with friends. However, on nights where there is a concert that I want to attend, I make sure my work is done early so that I can enjoy the music as much as possible! My long days usually end around midnight – sometimes a lot later when there’s work to finish!

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
For me, the coolest think about my graduate program is the fact that we students work with such dynamic, friendly professors and colleagues on a daily basis. It’s so beneficial to be able to have an ongoing and friendly dialogue with them about topics that range from research ideas to professional questions/concerns, even about how to be an accomplished researcher while having a fulfilled personal life.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
I have just completed my first semester in the Italian Studies Ph.D. sequence and am about to start the second semester of coursework. I don’t know what every program out there is like, but I can say that the amount of coursework that I’ve encountered is comparable to that of my friends and colleagues in other Italian Ph.D. programs around the country. That being said, when you are a Ph.D. student, you have the advantage of drawing upon work and observations completed in your MA program – but this can be a double-edged sword!

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
Since I’m still a “greenhorn” in the Ph.D. program, I haven’t narrowed down my thesis topic just yet; however, I am interested in studying the role of subaltern, marginalized communities in literature of the Mezzogiorno in the first half of the 20th century.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
Since I already have my MA degree, I started the Italian Studies program as an AI (Assistant Instructor) teaching introductory Italian (ITL 506, 507) as well as Italian conversation courses (ITL 118K, ITL 118L). For me, teaching is the most rewarding part of the gig!

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
The hardest part of any graduate program is adapting to the type of work that is expected of you. That is to say, you’re no longer memorizing facts in order to pass a multiple-choice exam. In graduate school, work is about engaging yourself with the texts that are assigned to you, finding aspects that are interesting/of importance, and then developing your ideas beyond a superficial level.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I wish I had known how much time from my personal life would be sacrificed in order to appease the grad school gods.

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

  1. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize!
  2. When applying to schools, find out who teaches there and what their area of specialization is. Not only is it good to have an idea about who you’d want to direct your thesis, but it shows the application committee that you have done your research.
  3. Do not let graduate school take over your life! In my opinion, having a fulfilled personal life is the key to being a successful graduate student.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I never participated in a research project as an undergrad because I was too busy completing two BA degrees; however, I did complete a research project during the summer between my first and second years of my MA program. I worked/researched in the Biblioteca Sormani in Milan and at the Fondazione Leonardo Sciascia in Racalmuto, Sicily compiling research on the life and writings of Leonardo Sciascia, one of Sicily’s most important authors of the 20th century. Being in the archives and learning the in’s and out’s of researching in Italy prepared me for the future when I’ll have to compile information while writing my thesis and/or book.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
My number two choice would have been attending the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

What is an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in Italian to check out?
The two websites that I suggest to my students every semester are WordReference, which is one of the best and most up-to-date online dictionaries out available, and the Radio Arlecchino podcasts that are produced by Antonella Olsen and Eric Edwards in UT's French and Italian department.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years, I see myself teaching modern Italian literature at a research institution in a major city and working on the publication of my first book.

Do you have a ‘grad school survival tip’ you would like to share?
My main “grad school survival tips” would be to prioritize your life, don’t procrastinate, and remember that you need to have fun, too. Don’t let graduate school take over your life!

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Jennifer Moen


Graduate Program: Ph.D., French, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Historical Linguistics

Other Degrees: B.A., Letters, University of Oklahoma – Norman, OK

What is grad school life like?
I’m going to be completely honest about this: graduate school can be really hard. Don’t do it unless you’re really dedicated to your research. Believe me, finding that balance between study time and social life is harder than it sounds. The thing that makes it so hard is that in theory, your work is never done. There’s always something more to be read, or you can always go over a homework one more time (or two or three…) to check for any errors. But there also comes a time when you have to put the work down, tell yourself you’ve done a good job, and go have a coffee or a pint with a friend. The workload can get really tough, but you just have to focus, use your time wisely, and reward yourself for all your hard work when you’re done. Oh, and one more thing: I think it’s important for grad students to have other activities than studying, and one thing I’m doing is training for a half marathon. Those long runs are really soothing, and help clear my mind of my work. I highly recommend you find clubs/hobbies/sports/whatever to balance with study time.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
For me, the daily routine is simply going to class. I’m not a TA or AI, and I’m not part of any graduate student clubs or associations. When I’m not in class, I either study at the library or at my home; you have to do a lot of prep work for the next class period. Mondays are busy because I have class from 12:30-6:30. Tuesdays, I don’t have class, but I spend the majority of my day reading and preparing for Wednesday, because there are always reading assignments for the Wednesday class sessions.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
I appreciate that we are allowed to nurture our own research paths. The faculty seems to be really supportive, so if you have a good idea, they tell you to go with it. That’s what it’s all about; we’re the ones who have to do the next generation of research. Also, since I’m really into Old French, I was thrilled that we got to handle old manuscripts, and after that, we learned how to actually read the script (which was really tough). But when you realize that you’re able to read a 14th century manuscript and translate it into either French or English, that is so rewarding.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
I’m still in my first year of the MA program, so I’m just taking courses. Next semester, I plan on starting my Master’s Report, so I’ll probably take fewer courses in order to have plenty of writing time. I’m a little apprehensive about it, but as long as I have a solid grip on my research topic it should go fine. I should finish my MA next December, and from there I can begin my PhD work.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
I am interested in historical linguistics; I think it’s fascinating to read a text in Old French and then think about how much the language has changed over time into Modern French. Within historical studies, I actually stumbled across some medieval cookbooks written in Old French that I did a short paper on; with a little luck, I’d like to revisit those texts and do further research on them, partly because I’m a hobby chef and wine lover so that area is of particular interest to me! Also, food and cooking play such a large part of culture that I think those medieval cookbooks have a lot to say about medieval society.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I am not yet in a TA or AI role; I was lucky enough to get a great fellowship for this first year, so I’m really focusing on my studies and taking a slightly heavier course load; that way, when I become a TA or AI, I will have an extra class or two out of the way, and I won’t be as over-worked.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
Some people tell me “Oh man, being a grad student must be great; it’s like an extended version of undergrad! You can sleep in late, go out on weeknights if you feel like it, get all these great spring and summer breaks…” NOT the case! Grad school is an intensified version of undergrad; think heavier workloads, mandatory class presence, far tougher grading, and much higher expectations. After all, you chose to be there; there’s the understanding that you’re there of your own free will, and that you’re interested in knowing everything there is to know about your field, and that you want to do quality research. Breaks are nice, of course, but as a grad student, you often find yourself using breaks to catch up on research papers, read supplementary material, or gather ideas for upcoming research. Sometimes you need breaks to read ahead, too, so that you don’t get too bogged down once classes get back in session.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I didn’t know a lot about the details of graduate school as an undergrad; I figured it would be harder, but beyond that, I just had a semi-romanticized notion of it: learning all these new things and then making profound discoveries in my field, and then gliding effortlessly into a tenure-track position. My undergrad professors looked like they had leisurely lives (flexible hours, relaxing in their offices); and they made being a professor look easy, with all that ample knowledge just spilling out their mouths! It’s not that easy, I know that now for sure. You have to work long and hard, and you still might not discover anything shockingly new, and the job market is getting a lot tougher as well. You really have to perform at your very best if you want to get a tenure-track position in the future; you’re competing with other people that are just as smart or smarter than you are. Once you do get that position, you have to keep publishing and accomplishing, too, so it’s a lot harder than it looks on the surface. Doing good research takes a lot of time and effort, more than you might imagine.

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

  1. Make sure you are passionate about your field to the point of pouring at least the amount of time into it that most working people pour into a job.
  2. Be prepared to encounter rough patches of stress, especially towards the end of the semester when you have 3+ major final projects due. It’s difficult, but if you anticipate those busy times and even try to work ahead, you can do it.
  3. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but do make sure that your research interests at least somehow match up with those of one of the faculty members. It makes it nice to have an older, wiser helping hand when you have research issues and questions.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
Yes, my senior year I did a study of epic poetry and the virtues of the hero. Looking back on it now, I just have to smile at how “immature” my paper sounds! But I don’t care; it was worth it, and you have to start somewhere. I would definitely recommend research for undergrads. You might as well get a small taste of what your everyday reality as a grad student will be.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I was geographically limited when applying to grad school; my husband’s job basically forced us to move to Houston, so my main school choices for French were U.T. and Rice. I actually got accepted to Rice as well, and that’s where I went my first year. It’s a superb program, but I left simply because it’s a strictly literary program, and I had decided that French linguistics was what I truly wanted. So here I am, living in Houston half the time and Austin the other half. It works though, and you have to make sure you’re in a program you really like.

What is an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in French to check out?
Lexilogos is a fabulous site with all the dictionaries you could wish for. They have Old French, Middle French, slang French, etymology, etc. I’ve used the Old and Middle French dictionaries for research projects. It’s basically a central site where you can find all the best word reference sources.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully in a good job position! Honestly, if for some reason the job market prompts me to look outside academia for work, I’d be okay with that. I mean, sure, you spend all this time educating yourself, but you have to deal with the circumstances given, and all your knowledge is never wasted. I had this Classics professor as an undergrad who was a PhD from Columbia. He was so brilliant, and I was shocked to learn that he had taught high school for ten years or more because he had sought a professor position during a tough period and couldn’t get hired. This was a Columbia graduate who had published a book. Some of us wondered if he might not be a little bitter over being an accomplished PhD having to teach high school rather than college, but he wasn’t. He just treated it as part of his life experience.

Do you have a ‘grad school survival tip’ you would like to share?
Accept the fact that being a grad student can be really hard and really stressful. But also remember that you are an intelligent and dedicated individual if this is the path you choose for yourself, and you can do it!

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Michael Gott


Graduate Program: Ph.D., French & Doctoral Portfolio in European Studies, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Topic: An analysis of travel narratives in a variety of genres within the context of French and European identity in the post-Berlin Wall era

Other Degrees: M.A., French and Francophone Studies, University of California at Los Angeles – Los Angeles, CA; B.A., International Relations and French, Ohio State University – Columbus, OH

What is grad school life like?
Life in graduate school takes some getting used to. I thought the pace was more intense than at the undergrad level, and there are a lot of things to juggle: research, courses, qualifying exams, improving your language if necessary and learning a second language (most grad programs like mine have this requirement). I learned a lot about striking the right balance from older, more experienced students and from some very helpful professors. I think the best advice I could offer would be to keep work and life separate. Grad school isn't like a job where you work a fixed number of hours then go home for the night. There is always something to do, so making a plan to set aside work and fun time is important (though not always easy).

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
This depends on the stage in the program. The common day for an M.A. student involves reading and preparing for classes and going to class ready to participate. When I am teaching as an AI I would also have a daily lesson to prepare for before class and then grading to do after class. Many schools have language classes 5 days a week, so an AI is busy with class prep every weekday.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
Teaching is a great experience, and very rewarding. I wouldn't suggest going into this type of program if you don't think you want to teach. Besides that, I love being able to travel and live abroad as part of my research.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
I am researching and beginning to write my dissertation. Last Fall I defended my prospectus and advanced to candidacy. This step is very different from taking coursework. On one hand it is great to focus on my own work, but on the other hand it requires a lot of discipline. In dissertation mode I don't have weekly deadlines and it is up to me (with some help from advisors) to plan my course of action. Usually I would be in Austin teaching French at UT while I write, but this year I am in Paris on an exchange the Department of French and Italian has with the University of Paris 13. So I am teaching English and phonetics to French university students for the year while doing research in Paris.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
I work on cinema, literature and culture from France but also from the Francophone world, in particular Africa. My dissertation deals mainly with cinema but I also work in some other media. My project is to look at French and European Identity in Road Movies (and books, and music) that have been made since the fall of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the expansion of the European Union.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
Right now I teach in Paris, so that routine is a bit different. I have been a TA and AI both in French and in other departments and can just say that teaching is fun but really hard at first. Once you get a routine down life becomes easier.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
I think there is more work in general as well as the constant need to be researching and writing. The work is less passive than undergrad work; many professors expect every student to be able to participate and have something new and interesting to say about the week's assignment(s). My ego definitely took some bruising when I first arrived at grad school. In undergrad I was used to being one of the best students in any given class, while in grad school everyone else also used to be one of those "best" students. It can make you feel pretty stupid sometimes.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I think it is a good idea to take a break from academic life and spend some time in the workforce (or volunteering, traveling, whatever...). I have known many people who went straight to grad school after their B.A. and regretted it. I think this is especially important for Ph.D. programs, because they last 5-6 years.

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

  1. Talk to as many people already in graduate school as you can and try to get advice from professors who, after all, have all been to grad school.
  2. Try to meet as many of the students and professors in the prospective program as possible. You will be working closely with many of them for a long time, so it is nice to fit in not just academically but personally and culturally as well. Students may be more honest in their assessment of their own program than professors are.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I did an undergrad research paper on Albert Camus. It was good preparation for graduate work and I think it makes a good impression on admissions committees.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I don't think I had a clear #2 choice, and I would encourage students to think about the people they will be working with as much as the program itself. Also, different programs have different strong suits, so that would depend on a student's area of interest. Personally, I also considered UCLA, University of Wisconsin, Ohio State, NYU and Northwestern. I made that list by consulting my undergrad professors, who knew what I liked to work on.

What is an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in French to check out?
Le Canard enchaîné

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Teaching French at a university.

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