Application Statement, PhD in English

I have read several rounds of graduate school application letters, and it occurred to me that strong statements have some qualities in common. So I wrote a tweet.

Then, I recalled that I’ve saved my 2002 application statement for Virginia. And I think it meets the criteria that I set out above. Though I would do it differently now, I was accepted into the PhD program at Virginia in 2001 and 2002. This is the 2002 letter. So I’ll let it stand below as it was, as perhaps useful to someone who wants to pursue graduate study but has not been instructed in the conventions of this type of application. I was not awarded a full ride (graduate school shop talk for research fellowship with no teaching required, reserved for the most promising candidates; PS: I later got to know two of those rewarded candidates, and they definitely deserved them) and so taught classes to earn my keep.

Statement of Interest

       I applied to and was accepted into the Ph.D. program in English at the University of Virginia (UVA) for the Fall 2001 semester. Though I accepted the offer, I later decided not to attend when I realized that the federally subsidized loans that were available to me were not sufficient to pay my tuition and fees. I made the decision with considerable regret because I did then and still believe that the program would be an excellent place to pursue my interest in textual studies. In the past months, I have made significant progress on reducing the financial barriers. But the reasons for my interest in the program are little changed from my previous application.

My interest is textual scholarship. It is an outgrowth of my thesis on Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, in which I studied what the manuscript and published editions reveal about the author’s composition and revision processes. My goal is to prepare an electronic resource that makes my view of Crane’s revisions accessible to other scholars. The resources at UVA make it the best place to continue my current research and to complete a Ph.D.

In “Stephen Crane Revising The Red Badge of Courage”—a shortened version of my thesis that I have provided as a writing sample—I explain a concept of Crane’s revisions that considers multiple versions of the novel. Crane revised with considerable attention to the place of the protagonist in the novel, to the voice of the narrator, and to the imagery. The importance of Private Henry Fleming, the central figure in the manuscript originally titled Private Fleming: His Various Battles, diminishes as Crane revises. One of the most important changes is that Henry Fleming is changed to the youth in the revised manuscript and the Appleton edition. As Crane diminishes the importance of the youth’s character, he emphasizes the novel’s narrative voice and its imagery. Editors Fredson Bowers and Henry Binder have viewed Crane’s revision process as moving toward a sharp distinction between Henry Fleming and the other soldiers. I believe that a more satisfactory view of Crane’s revisions places the protagonist’s name change in the context of other revisions.

During the past two years, my work has included assisting faculty members at the University of North Texas (UNT) to prepare printed editions and electronic texts. As an assistant editor to Alexander Pettit for Set I of Selected Works of Eliza Haywood, I proofread, prepared facsimile title pages, and reviewed the textual introduction. As an associate editor of Set II of Selected Works of Eliza Haywood, I prepared facsimile title pages, typeset all three volumes, and consulted frequently with the editor on matters of bibliography and presentation. As a research assistant to Peter L. Shillingsburg, I have worked on the process of converting the source files for his many critical editions of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novels into an internet-accessible format. While I have learned much from these two distinguished scholars, I could pursue my study of Red Badge most successfully with the unique resources at Virginia.

I want to create an internet resource of materials that includes transcriptions and images of—and links among—all of the authoritative Red Badge texts: early draft manuscript, final manuscript, chapter 4 excerpt published in Current Literature, and the 1895 Appleton edition. Three resources at UVA interest me particularly: 1) Crane’s autograph manuscript of Red Badge in the Clifton Waller Barret Collection, 2) the Bowers collection that includes the source files for the Virginia edition of Red Badge, and 3) the knowledge and expertise of scholars working in the Electronic Text Center and in the Institute for Advanced Technology in the humanities. Because of my interests in bibliography and electronic texts, I have contacted David Vander Meulen and Dr. John Unsworth and have asked them to write letters on my behalf. With access to the physical resources at UVA, and to these and other scholars such as Jerome McGann, I could prepare an internet resource that makes my view of Crane’s revisions accessible to other scholars.

In the eight months since withdrawing my acceptance, I have taken numerous steps to better prepare myself financially and academically for the Ph.D. program at UVA. My financial preparations have included reducing credit card, reducing school loan debt, and setting aside enough money to pay the difference between out-of-state tuition and the maximum allowable subsidized loan. I have indicated to my family that I may need financial support, but I am making significant progress towards being able to pay the tuition and fees with no assistance other than subsidized loans. Though I am employed full-time as a technical writer at a company in Dallas and part-time as an adjunct instructor at UNT, my academic and editorial work is moving forward as well. I typeset Set II of Selected Works of Eliza Haywood and wrote a study of the manuscript of Nineteen Eighty-Four. The latter is provided as a writing sample. For Shillingsburg’s edition of Thackeray’s The Newcomes, I have begun the process of converting TeX source files to XML. And finally, my review of Susan Hockey’s Electronic Texts in the Humanities for the journal Text is almost complete. Were the English department to again extend an offer of admission, I would be honored.

I think the strength of letter is that I know what I’m planning to do and am in communication with scholars at the university. I wonder now whether my several years away from graduate study and my full-time job were a weakness. By the way, I did not end up doing a Crane project, because Jerome McGann persuaded me that Uncle Tom’s Cabin project was a better idea. (He was, and is, a very persuasive person.) I would caution anyone reading this letter as a model that my application at the University of Michigan (2001) did not secure me admission into the program, and that other materials (also mentioned) may have helped.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Application Statement, PhD in English

  1. I wonder now whether my several years away from graduate study and my full-time job were a weakness.

    I don’t know whether things have changed recently, but for the time of your applications I suspect that they count as an asset, both in terms of how the committee viewed the application pool and how the time away and other work may have inflected your approach to your scholarly work.

    (I began doctoral study at Berkeley in 1998. Completed it, too, which is less relevant here.)

  2. It occurs to me that I left something out: I too am a former (or once and future?) technical writer, and in my textual work, both for myself and as gainful employment, tech writing has provided useful perspectives.

  3. wraabe says:

    Interesting. Upon reflection, I imagine tech writing helped provide a deep sense of the nuts and bolts for arranging and managing large documents with word processors, desktop publishing applications, document encoding (i.e., Word styles or FrameMaker formats as model), and document preparation cycle as iterative.

    But in work as textual editor, I am now the most uncompromising technical writer and the most demanding Subject Matter Expert ever crammed into one person. My tech writer side often says, get on with it. And it probably crowded out some of my affinity for capital Theory, which had been a love during first stint in graduate school. Matthew Harrison also posted his application letter, at , which is interestingly different, though he is too modest.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s