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Q&A - PhD Programs in English

Can I work while studying for my PhD in English?

Yes, even students who have earned bachelors and masters degrees or another upper-level English certification can take as many as 10 years to earn a traditional or online PhD in English. Therefore, you may need some type of income while you study for your English doctorate. Ideas include:

Teaching assistantships. English PhD students often find work as teaching assistants at their universities. Teaching assistants, or TAs, typically teach undergraduate composition classes or assist full professors with teaching or research. Teaching assistantships usually come with a stipend as well as tuition remission. Such academic jobs may make it easier to juggle your own classes with work.

Grants and scholarships. With a little research, you might be able to find some free money. Scholarships and grants may cover some of your tuition expenses but seldom can be used for such general living expenses as room and board. Some, but not all, grants and scholarships require students to work as part of the financial agreement. In addition, they are not typically part of English PhD online programs.

Other types of employment. A variety of other on-campus or off-campus jobs might be available to you as a PhD student. You could work at the university library or one of the stores or restaurants that serve your campus. You could also try English tutoring jobs, a reporting job with the local newspaper or some other form of flexible employment that allows you to use your English skills. Online PhD English programs may offer greater flexibility to pursue full-time employment while getting your degree.

Are there any scholarships for traditional or online PhD students in English?

Yes. You have a number of possibilities for scholarships to help you obtain a traditional or online doctorate in English including scholarships offered by your school, federal grants, state higher education grants and other private sources of scholarship funds

The top English PhD programs offer a variety of scholarships, fellowships and teaching assistantships for doctoral students, although online schools generally do not provide nearly as many opportunities for funding as traditional programs do. Information about scholarships can be obtained from your school’s website, financial aid officer or English department chair. There is typically no centralized application process, so you must investigate and apply for each pot of money separately.

Special monies may also be available for women, minorities, low-income students and veterans, as well as for certain types of research in a particular subject, so be sure to see if you are eligible for any available funds.

A search for additional scholarships outside your school should start with the U.S. Department of Education. This valuable website links to many federal sources of student aid, state higher education monies and a searchable list of scholarships available in English and other subjects. Please note that only an accredited doctorate in English may be eligible for government funding.

If you are interested in doing research or teaching abroad, be sure to also check out the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship program, which funds U.S. students to work and study internationally.

Are there any notable people who have earned PhDs in English?

Many authors and poets hold doctoral degrees in English, such as Mark Halliday, who received a PhD in English from Brandeis University; Donald Justice, who received a PhD in English from University of Iowa and later went on to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; and Richard Russo, who earned a PhD in English from University of Arizona and won the Pulitzer Prize for his fiction.

In addition, there have also been other English PhDs who reached outside the world of letters to achieve greater fame and celebrity. Cultural critic and self-proclaimed “dissident feminist” Camille Paglia holds a PhD in English from Yale. James Schamus, who graduated from Berkeley with a PhD in English, is an award-winning screenwriter and movie producer whose films have included Brokeback Mountain and Coraline. Lieutenant General William James Lennox, Jr. holds a doctorate in English literature from Princeton and served as superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Actor David Duchovny was a PhD student in English at Yale but dropped out to pursue his acting career before completing his degree. James Franco found fame as an actor first and is now currently enrolled in Yale’s PhD program in English.

Do you recommend any English PhD student blogs that I should follow?

You can find several sources of online wisdom from bloggers who are current or former PhD English students. The Survey on Doctoral and Career Preparation gleans lessons learned by 4,000 doctoral students. One respondent writes, “If you don’t know why you’re going to grad school and what sort of work you’re going to do once you get there, don’t go. Wait until you know.”

Gain an alternative perspective on the value of PhD English programs at a blog called Sell Out Your Soul. Sample pieces include “PhD in English? What the F%$@#K! have you been doing for the last ten years?” and “Ph.D. in English Useless Destroyed My Life: A Selloutyoursoul Reader Writes In.” Although you may not agree with every blogger, the site might help you as you launch your own doctoral studies.

For a peek into one of the best English doctoral programs in the country, look at UC Berkeley’s English department blog. Here you will find in-house happenings as well as interesting essays such as “We’re Afraid for Virginia Woolf,” which ties the English department to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The blog Alternative PhD provides posts that are universally applicable to PhD students in any field, as well as a collection of links to other blogs from graduate students. The topics include how to be disciplined in writing your doctoral dissertation and what to do if you are thinking of quitting your PhD program.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, the bible of academia, maintains a blog site featuring such articles as “An Open Letter to New Graduate Students” and related commentary. These broader academic sites let you take part in the larger conversation among researchers and professors nationwide while earning your English degree online or in a traditional program.