3 Tips on Being an English Grad Student

Looking back at the last 11 years of college, I realized that there was a lot of information that I wish I had sooner before I made critical decisions. Whether you are working or not, you know that you cannot be everywhere at once to find all the information you need. As a college student, you will need a plan of attack to make sure you are taking full advantage of college resources that are being offered.

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Get Cozy with Your College Department (In Person)

This can be an obvious piece of advice, but it is one that people often ignore (including myself and to my later pain). Do not just rely on your college department’s emails to your student account or class announcements for important information and deadlines for your major. Just like the rest of us, staff and faculty get extremely busy. They are probably not going to give out helpful information via email announcements unless they are getting paid to do it under their contract or they happen to have some free time.  Otherwise, the event or critical information is extremely time sensitive and fast approaching. This is to no fault of their own, they just get busy.

That being said, try to drop by the college department office every week to say hi and chat. Introduce yourself. Ask how everyone is doing and if there is anything interesting going on that you might be interested in.  Volunteer a couple of hours for a student event set-up. Believe me when I say that once you help with a couple of department student events, you might find that a certain faculty head will never forget your face and they make the effort to reach out to you.

For Covid-19 Specific Advice: Email your professors, your department coordinators, your department’s designated contact email,  and volunteer to help with virtual events or writing announcements.

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Join A Club That Relates to Your Major

The greatest assets of my college career are the people I became friends with through my college club. A few things happen when you join a good active club. First, the people you meet in these clubs, are highly likely to be heavily involved in the school at some point. For example, three individuals that I met in my undergrad English club now work for the college as lecturers or in some other capacity. In fact, I cannot seem to get away from them! I am even meeting them at other local colleges. Second, my club advisors became my biggest advocators. Whenever I needed a recommendation letter for any reason, they were always willing to help. Plus, they must have written some amazing letters, because I often received scholarships or job offers soon afterwards. Lastly, gaining a position as a club officer looks great on a resume or scholarship applications. Colleges and companies like individuals who are active in their communities. In fact, colleges and universities go out of their way to hire active community members because it is a critical aspect of college life.

For Covid-19 Specific Advice: English clubs can and should still be active during this crisis, virtually. These clubs can focus on different modes of writing, sharing literature, and tutoring/pedagogy. Clubs can also be an additional asset by reenforcing what is being taught in undergrad classes. Club meetings can be held virtually via zoom or even google classroom (Free).  However, these students might now be advertising well enough for you to find them easily. So again, reach out to your college department and ask.

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Actual Learning Takes Place Outside of The Classroom and in Conversation

If you are a college English grad then most likely, you are planning to teach. My most important lesson I learned is that learning is a social act. I have had professors look me in the face and straight up admit that lectures are the least effective ways to teach. The best way to teach? Group work or teaching. Now before we start internally groaning because group mates can be extremely unreliable, consider if you still remember what you talked about in those groups. I, unfortunately do. Which means that group work is highly effective. Why is it so effective? You will later learn in a pedagogy class a few key things. First, meaning for anything is constantly being negotiated, whether socially or alone in that brain of yours. In conversation with another person, an individual will have to state an idea and must defend it before the group will accept it. In most circumstances, a group will go back and forth a few times to make sure an idea is correct or plausible before moving on.  Second thing that we learn from group work, hands on work is learning, especial in the presence of an expert. While a lesson can make sense in the classroom, when we try to replicate it alone at home, we can get stuck. This is where internships, tutoring, professor office hours, and study groups become helpful.

Internships???? What are you talking about??? What I mean, specifically, is teaching or tutoring internships. Now this is not plausible for every situation but if you want to become a better writer or teacher, internships are the way to go and you will have an expert hovering over your shoulder whenever you need help.  By taking an internship, we are taking our lessons and reinforcing that information by talking about it and breaking down information for others. As well, some lessons on pedagogy can only be understood and realized when you have tutored or taught. It instantly just clicks, that is just how it is sometimes. None the less, you are reenforcing your own learning and helping others understand at the same time.

Now hopefully some of this information was helpful. I am going to make an effort to release a helpful tips article on a weekly bases so look for the next installment next Monday!

Written by Rose Bence, English Graduate Student.