To Phd or not to Phd - hey, where's my grub?

A post for anyone, but more specifically for Keith and (whle working things out through writing, as I do often) myself.

Graduate study in English Language and Literature in the U.K and the U.S. Would your assumption be, if you knew nothing of the differing education systems, that since it was all pretty much written here, the British system would outshine the American? Even if this assumption isn't made by you, would you assume an equal level of standards? It will simply have to be taken as standard that U.S universities, the majority of which are in fact private, are richer. By a lot. By $/£billions, in fact. The tuition fees are --- but wait, that point will save for later.

This isn't going to be a very long post, because I want to get my point across quickly.

A comparison of how to get a PhD after your undergraduate degree:

Britain --- It is an unfortunate recent development that you now need a Masters. This did NOT used to be the case, but it is now. Thus, when graduating with a B.A English (Hons) (it will ALWAYS be B.A, or M.A in the Scottish system) anyone who wants to go further must immediatley go for a graduate Masters. The type, for now, is unimportant. Taught, research, whatever - M.Phil, M.A, M.Sc, M.St.... Fees will normally be, on average, £3,500 for a single year. To get onto a graduate Master's you need a II.i, or if you're aiming for Oxbridge, a First. You complete this Masters in a single year. The only grading distinction is that you can get a distinction if you're very good. A Masters and a research topic will be enough to get you onto a PhD in pretty much any insitution in Britain. A PhD will take 3 years technically, 4 in reality, and works thus: you research, *maybe* do some teaching, but have no exams except the viva at the finale, and the production of your thesis. It's independent, and your supervisor is your only contact - no compulsory units, or exams, or stipulates.

So, in short-

TESTS/EXAMS/NECCESARY UNITS: Must pass Masters dissertation. Must pass PhD dissertation. Must pass PhD viva.

Now, the U.S system.

You graduate after 4 years with a MAJOR in English - meaning you have also studied other subjects to a high level. This, in essence, is a British B.A and Masters all rolled into onw. So, an undergraduate degree is enough to allow entry to a U.S PhD. PhD in U.S will take on average 6/7 years. Here's the good part though; I've checked the websites of the top U.S universities, and they have further requirements. You must enroll, and pass exams showing a high working level of 2, or more often 3 languages other than English, one of which will often be classical. You must complete credit with honours in many differeing areas - some universities demand you cover both post and pre 1700 to a high level. You must teach undergraduates for a certain ammount of credit. After 2/3 years you taken qualifying exams to be raised to full doctorate level - which must all be passed. On top of this, there is thesis and viva.

TESTS/EXAMS/NECCESARY UNITS: 2/3 languages. Proof of teaching skill. Must pass taught units. Must pass qualifying exam. Must pass dissertation. Must pass viva.


How does all of this make Britain look? if we look at Oxford, the best in U.K for English, we find:

Candidates who already have a Master's degree from another university are admitted as Probationary Research Students (PRS). Successful applicants will be allocated a supervisor before they arrive in Oxford (normally when their application is accepted). This supervisor is their primary academic contact, but they will also have been allocated a college adviser, and will often want to consult other faculty members as their research progresses. In consultation with their supervisor and the Director of Graduate Studies, they may be encouraged (or if appropriate, required) to attend the research skills courses which form part of the M.St., depending on how much of this training has been covered in their Master's course.

Before the end of the year, PRSs must apply for ‘Transfer of Status', from being a probationer to gaining full D.Phil. or M.Litt. status.


This is all. Compare Harvard, arguably the best in U.S:

The program takes from four to seven years to complete, with the majority finishing in five or six years. The first two years are devoted to course work and to preparation for the PhD Qualifying Exam (the "General"exam) at the beginning of the second year. The second and third years are devoted to preparing for the Dissertation Qualifying Exam (the "Field" exam) and to writing the Dissertation Prospectus. The fourth, fifth, and, when necessary, sixth years are spent completing the doctoral dissertation. From the third year until the final year (when they are generally supported by Dissertation Completion Fellowships), students also devote time to teaching and to developing teaching skills. Students with prior graduate training or those with a demonstrated ability may complete their dissertations in the fourth or fifth years.Students are strongly discouraged from taking more than seven years to complete the program, except under the most exceptional circumstances.

The program aims to provide the PhD candidate with a broad knowledge of English and American literature and language, including critical and cultural theory. Additional important skills include facility with the tools of scholarship-ancient and modern foreign languages, bibliographic procedures, and textual and editorial methods. The program also emphasizes the ability to write well, to do solid and innovative scholarly and critical work in a specialized field or fields, to teach effectively, and to make articulate presentations at conferences, seminars, and symposia.
The minimum residence requirement is two years of enrollment in full-time study, with a total of at least fourteen courses completed with honor grades (no grade lower than B-). The minimum standard for satisfactory work in the Graduate School is a B average in each academic year.
A minimum of fourteen courses must be completed no later than the end of the second year. At least ten courses must be at the 200- (graduate) level, and at least six of these ten must be taken within the Department. Graduate students in the English Department will have priority for admission into 200-level courses. The remaining courses may be either at the 100- or the 200-level. Students typically devote part of their course work in the first year to preparing for the "General" exam, focusing increasingly on their field in the second year. No more than four graduate-level courses may be transferred (at the discretion of the graduate director) from other institutions. These courses will not count towards the (minimum of) ten 200-level courses required.
Independent Study and Creative Writing
Students may petition to take one of the 100- level courses as independent study (English 399) with a professor, but not before the second term of residence. Other independent study courses will be permitted only in exceptional circumstances and with the consent of the professor and Director of Graduate Studies. Only one creative writing course, which counts as a 100-level course, may be taken for credit.
Advanced Standing
Once the student has completed at least three 200-level courses with a grade of A or A-, a maximum of four graduate-level courses may be transferred from other institutions, at the discretion of the Director of Graduate Studies. Transferred courses will not count toward the minimum of ten required 200-level courses, but will be counted as 100-level courses.

No more than one Incomplete may be carried forward at any one time by a graduate student in the English Department. It must be made up no later than six weeks after the start of the next term.

In applying for an incomplete, students must have signed permission from the instructor and the Director of Graduate Studies, or the course in question may not count toward the program requirements. If students do not complete work by the deadline, the course will not count toward the program requirements, unless there are documented extenuating circumstances.
Language Requirements
A reading knowledge of two languages is required. Students will be expected to show proficiency in either two ancient languages, or two modern languages, or one ancient and one modern language. (Normally, Latin, Greek, French, German, Spanish, and Italian are the accepted languages. Other languages may be acceptable if deemed relevant and appropriate to the student's program of study.) Should students opt for two modern languages, they must take one term of History and Structure of the Language or of Old English. Students may fulfill the ancient and modern language requirements 1) by passing a two-hour translation exam with a dictionary, 2) by taking a one term literature course in the chosen language, or [for the ancient requirement] 3) by taking two terms of elementary Latin or Greek. Any course taken to fulfill the language requirement must be passed with a grade of B- or better. Literature-level language courses count for course credit; elementary language courses do not.

General Exam
At the beginning of the second year, students will take a seventy-five minute oral exam, based on a list of authors and/or titles which the Department will make available for each entering class in the summer prior to its arrival. The examiners will be three regular members of the Department (assistant, associate, or full professors), whose names will not be disclosed in advance. Candidates whose performance on the exam is judged inadequate will be marked as “not yet passed” and must retake the exam at a time to be determined. If candidates do not pass on the second attempt, they will not be able to continue in the program. Note: Students must fulfill at least one language requirement by the end of the first year in order to be eligible to take the General exam.
Field Oral Exam

The purpose of the Field Oral is twofold: to examine students’ preparation in primary teaching and scholarly fields they mean to claim, and to explore an emerging dissertation topic. The examination is taken in December of the third year of graduate study, and is conducted by a three-person examination committee, chosen by individual students no later than September of the third year, normally from among the tenured and ladder faculty of the English Department. One faculty member acts as chair of the committee and assists students in selecting its other members. This committee, or some part of it, will likely continue to serve as individual students’ dissertation advisors.

During the exam, students are asked to demonstrate an adequate knowledge of both of the major primary works and selected scholarly works in their chosen fields, and to give a first account of a dissertation project. The exam focuses on a list of primary and scholarly works, drawn up by each student in consultation with the examination committee. When desired by candidates and their respective committees, the fields list may be informed by longer lists of works provided by the Department, augmented by students to accommodate their particular scholarly interests. Each committee meets with its advisee at least four weeks before the exam (i.e., before the Thanksgiving break) to finalize fields lists and discuss the exam format. This exam is graded Pass/Fail.
Dissertation Prospectus
The dissertation prospectus, signed and approved by three advisors (one of whom may be the DGS), is due in the Graduate Office by May 15 of the third year. The prospectus is neither a draft chapter nor a detailed road map of the next two years’ work, but a sketch, no longer than seven to ten pages, of the topic on which students plan to write. It gives a preliminary account of the argument, structure, and scope of the intended treatment of the topic. The overview will be followed by a bibliography.

The prospectus is written in consultation with the dissertation advisors, who will meet students at least once in the spring of the third year to discuss the prospectus and to draw up a timetable for the writing of the dissertation. In planning a timetable, students need to bear in mind (1) that two draft chapters of the dissertation must be completed by the middle of their fourth year if they are to be eligible to apply for fifth-year completion fellowships, and (2) that students generally enter the job market in the fall of the fifth or sixth year, with at least two final chapters and a third draft chapter completed. They should also remember that term-time fellowships and traveling fellowships may be available to them in the fourth year, but that these require applications which are due as early as December or January of the third year.
Dissertation Advising

Students should assemble a group of faculty members to supervise the dissertation. Several supervisory arrangements are possible: students may work with a committee of three faculty members who share nearly equal responsibility for advising, or with a committee consisting of a principal faculty adviser and a second and third reader. If the scope of the project requires it, students should consult the DGS about including a fourth faculty adviser from a department other than English. The advising mode chosen will be indicated to the Department when the prospectus is submitted. Regardless of the structure of advising, three faculty readers are required to certify the completed dissertation.
The Dissertation
After the dissertation prospectus has been approved, candidates work with their dissertation directors or their dissertation committee. All of the designated advisors must approve the final work.

The doctoral dissertation is expected to be an original and substantial work of scholarship or criticism, excellent in form and content. The Department accepts dissertations on a great variety of topics involving a broad range of approaches to literature. It sets no specific page limits, preferring to give students and directors as much freedom as possible.
Students begin teaching in their third year. Ordinarily they teach discussion sections in courses and in the Department’s program of tutorials for undergraduate honors majors. Preparation for a teaching career is a required part of students’ training, and Teaching Fellows benefit from the supervision and guidance of Department members. Teaching Fellows are required to take English 350, the Teaching Colloquium, in their first year of teaching and are encouraged to avail themselves of the facilities at the Bok Center for Teaching and Learning.


It just seems to me that English as a subject is being downgraded in the U.K, whlst the U.S stays true to its actual academic discipline.

All writes reserved

I urge everyone reading this to follow the links below, for wonderful, clear, yet facinating personal insights into pretty much everything I find interesting. They're written by the man behind the Online Etymological Dictionary ( and, I must say, are a rare example of interney writing which would in no way be out of place in the finest scholarly books. I won't comment, because anything I could say pails in comparison.


Old English

To Be

Thee and Thou




This man writes with an open honesty but with such an obviouis grasp of his topics - I wish I had written these. They strike home for me, and I hope for you. Far too often pretentious mysticisim, arogance and intellectual snobbery find their natural homes on the internet blog circuit.


For my Master's, I am suddenly finding myself drawn to Leicester and Durham - and, to be honest, *more* Leicester than Durham or Bristol. They offer units in Lexicology and Lexicography, as well as taught units, a dissertation and on top of that a viva voce. For my particular research area, this may well be perfect!

Linky linky:

Bristol 'M.A. English Literature'

Durham 'M.A. English Literary Studies'

Leicester 'M.A. English Literary Research'

I must admit I'm surprised that Leicester comes out so well in the comparison. Bristol and Durham's dissertations can't compete with Leicester's 30,000 words! Plus, as said, the viva, plus a specialist unit on research methods additional to the initial Bibliographical unit.

Would I be willing to turn down a 'more reputable' institution for one which I feel would make a truly impressive Masters?

Worth words?

A lot of thought recently on language as the medium of literature. I've never fallen for the slighly circular argument that 'literature is something ethereal, magnificant, it stands alone and above as the pinicle of human creation...', and in debates about the worth of the subject 'English' I am frustrated when people fall back to the immature argument that it 'helps us see and learn about humans'. The more objective approach, therefore, offered by medievalism has always attracted me - equally so for the linguistic study of texts.

So it is somehow ironic that i find myself draw to a specialism based in the Romantics, with all their subjective flair, emotion, naturalism and, specifically, egotistical imaginings of 'poet'. To a lot of 'that bunch', the 'poet' is a superhuman, capable of so much more than mere men, somehow linked to a spiritually superior status which allows him to glean an 'other' (or perhaps 'another') in life and living. Fuelled by the passions of my somewhat Byronic tutor at the moment (Keith, you know who) I am quickly developing an intense interest in the Romantics - so much so that I am applying for the M.A. here at Bristol with the intention of doing it in Romanticism.

My next essay, then, is on the poetical ego and poetical self-justification.

One of the problems with reading a lot of this stuff is that the writers are convinced of their own superiority.

One of the joys with reading a lot of this stuff is that the writers are convinces of their own superiority.

'What is a poet'?

becomes, for me

'What is a critic?'

Johnson aside, I would say it is someone who highlights meaning for others, and finds flaws where they are.


My thoughts upon

The School of Humanities, University of Bristol.

Schoolification was opposed by several departments, and many key members of staff. Yet, for whatever reason, it has happened, and I think those who left before it would find it difficult to understand the large impact it has had. It is not an ethereal conceptual coming together. No, no, no.

Every departmental common room is gone. They are now permanent teaching rooms. To imagine it, think of walking past the English book room (thankfully still extant!) and, where you would have turned into the English common room, finding a wall. You go along the coridor which has been created, and find yourself in a corridor which didn't even exist until a month ago. This leads you to the 'Humanities common room', plush with sofas and shiny wooden tables, coffee machines and armchairs. Here, there is a constant mix of historians, classicists, theologians, philosophers, literary people and linguists. The school acts as a single building, with the idea of 'department' being eroded - we no longer, for example, have 'head of dept.', but instead a 'head of subject'.

I don't mean to sound negative, because this has brought money flooding in to the arts which was needed quite badly. More is to come, with coffee shops and the like expected soon. But I can't help but wonder - is the erosion of individual departmentalism a good thing? we no longer have an English office, and the lack of a focus for student's issues has been felt. Philosophy and Classics tutors now have their rooms in the English building.

I think it remains to be seen if this will work. I must admit, I AM won over. The money, the breath of fresh air, is all exciting.

Broken Words

Metafiction. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. To go 'beyond' fiction, but not so far as to enter 'fact'. It comes up a lot in medieval morality plays, where metatheatre is neccesary for the allegory to work. The audience is openly reminded that THEY are the characters who are represented. Indeed, in Mankynde, the whole play stops at one point so a hat can be passed around demanding money before they continue. It also happens that they have been told that the next thing whichwill happen is the appearence of a devil. The audience pay for satan! It's delicious as they fall and are tempted to offer money for the privalidge.

But this is more than clever literary technique. I mean,the money is to pay for the drama in a very real sense. This is practical application of literary economics.

Tristram Shandy, however, is metafiction taken to the extent of masterbation. It's done for pleasure and is shocking but amazing. Sterne is constantly telling the reader, 'you're reading a book, you know. It's not real' in such an in-yer-face way that the reading if part of the fiction. Very reader-response theory, I know (texts create meaning through the act of reading by individual).

Do you remember Jane Eyre, where the self conscious narrator appears like a guillotine and corrupts the narrative. 'Reader, I married him' is bad. First person suddenly becomes meta-, where previously it had not been, and though I accept, it gives emphasis to this hapy conclusion, I find something clunky about it.

Sterne is a clown. He wrote Tristram Shandy because he knew people would fall for it.

This is a livejournal. You can't escape that. Would you feel differently, reacy differently if it was all printed in a paperback?

The willing suspension of disbelief is a fallacy, because the physicality of books informs us of their nature. Sterne leaves blanke pages for you to draw your own characters! It's pornographically extreme in its enraged screaming - 'I'm not real!'

On another note, I remain unconvinced about Wordsworth despite my tutor's arguments. Coleridge is better

...brocen wurde

'To begin, begin'
~William Wordsworth

And so I shall. This is only in part a beginning, something new and fresh. Mostly is it a continuation of that which is passed but not defunct. The past is passed but is not de facto defuct. Since my old journal at times touched on the act of writing, on personal preferences I hold for works of drama, poetry, narratives etc, this is not to stand religiously alone as a genesis. I'm hoping it will be a forum for me to work through in my mind, if you don't mind, my opinions, feelings and thoughts - I think. On literature, that is to say (to, in fact, write).

Such Pleasure took the Serpent to behold
This Flourie Plat, the sweet recess of Eve
Thus earlie, thus alone; her Heav'nly forme
Angelic, but more soft, and Feminine,
Her graceful Innocence, her every Aire
Of gesture or lest action overawd
His Malice, and with rapine sweet bereav'd
His fierceness of the fierce intent it brought:
That space the Evil one abstracted stood
From his own evil, and for the time remaind
Stupidly good, of enmitie disarm'd,
Of guile, of hate, of envie, of revenge;
~ Paradise Lost, Book IX, ll. 455 - 466.

This is one of the most strikingly memorable moments in the poem, I find. Satan's malice and intent to tempt are simply destroyed by the physicality of Eve. Her beauty stuns 'the subtlest beast in all the field' into abstraction - or should we say destraction. Milton presents an Eden which Samuel Johnson thought was unconvincing in its perfection; the state of Eve however, if we take the poem's internal arguments at face value, goes beyond narrative and authorial voice. Note that Milton flashes from the physical verb 'beheld' into the spiritual wonder of Eve. Her form is not simply sexy or attractive, it is Heav'nly and Angelic. Her 'gestures', that most physical reminder, become of 'air', of nought, and are reduced and lost to the soft and feminine. In a way, the reader is asked by Milton to view her as Satan does - we take in a description of beauty not in terms which would be offered by a human, but in spiritual terms akin to Satan's own mind.

As a side note, 'stupidly' in this cotext means stunned into stupor - overwhelmed - and not foolish. Thus, Satan's own hatred of all God which makes is overturned by the actual creation of God and he is, for a moment, 'good' - or as good as he is going to be. William Blake argued that Milton 'was of the Devil's party without knowing it' for his representation of Satan as the anti-hero, yet in any argument against this I would have to raise the above points. God wins. God always wins. For this argument, it is irrelevant if he is tyranical, because he is God, and wins.

The semi-colon which finishes this passage was later to become a full stop, breaking the continuity into the next few lines in which Satan's Hellish passsions return. For this moment, this full pause, he is lost to himself in awe. It is a good full stop, and important to our understanding that there is to be a break-off at this point. The semi-colon suggested that the logical after-point was Hell once more. The full stop demands we consider whether it actually is 'logic' which would make that jump.


The title of this journal comes from a medieval play entitled (retrospectively) 'Mankind'. It allegorically teaches the neccesary of salvation through Christ for happiness, and the role of work and prayer in such a process. Being a medieval' morality' play it includes representative characters who are named as they are; thus, Mischief the Vice. The quotation of this journal comes from his mockery of Latin - the then language of the church. For the Vices to tempt Mankind, a hybrid Adam-Everyman figure, they must destroy his language as well. As such, the complete quotations is thus:

Here ys 'blottybs in blottis,
Blottorum blottibus istis'
I beschrew yowr erys, a fayer hande!
[I curse your ears, this is good handwriting!]

Language links to mind, mind to spirit, and spirit to salvation. I thought it appropriate that in a journal I intend to make a mostly literary diary, such a wonderfully evocative word would do.

For tonight, I'll leave you with some fiery and sexy lines from Pope's 'The Rape of the Lock'. For those who are unsure - yes, it's a satire on a woman 'putting on her slap'.

And now, unveil'd, the Toilet stands display'd,
Each Silver Vase in mystic Order laid.
First, rob'd in White, the Nymph intent adores
With Head uncover'd, the cosmetic Pow'rs.
A heav'nly Image in the Glass appears,
To that she bends, to that her Eyes she rears;
Th' inferior Priestess, at her Altar's side,
Trembling, begins the sacred Rites of Pride.
Unnumber'd Treasures ope at once, and here
The various Off'rings of the World appear; 1.130
From each she nicely culls with curious Toil,
And decks the Goddess with the glitt'ring Spoil.
This Casket India's glowing Gems unlocks,
And all Arabia breathes from yonder Box.

The Tortoise here and Elephant unite,
Transform'd to Combs, the speckled and the white.
Here Files of Pins extend their shining Rows,
Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, Billet-doux.
Now awful Beauty puts on all its Arms;
The Fair each moment rises in her Charms, 1.140
Repairs her Smiles, awakens ev'ry Grace,
And calls forth all the Wonders of her Face;
Sees by Degrees a purer Blush arise,
And keener Lightnings quicken in her Eyes.
The busy Sylphs surround their darling Care;
These set the Head, and those divide the Hair,
Some fold the Sleeve, while others plait the Gown;
And Betty's prais'd for Labours not her own.

I'll leave with a somewhat controvresial point - that I find the heroic couplet annoyingly immature, and for this reason Pope could never hope to be a Milton, whose blank verse will always, always better him.

P.S The title of this post is taken from 'The Battle of Maldon', an Anglo-Saxon poem whose first lines are lost. Thus, it starts mid-sentance with the flirtingly suggestive phrase which says [in translation] 'would be broken'. I was tickled by the wonder of having a concluded part of a sentance with no beginning in my first post, so concered with not being a traditional beginning as it is, but more so that to those who do not speak Anglo-Sacon, it might simply say 'broken word'. Now that is an image I love.
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