Every English MA student is aware of the Advanced Project that will come at the end of their graduate education at The College of Saint Rose. At times it can seem like an elusive and overwhelming paper, but one that you feel assured you will be ready to conquer when the time comes. However, there is also an instinctive feeling that this will be different from any other literary research you have ever completed. This is all true and also the reason why it’s important to go into the Advanced Project feeling prepared and confident.
You can find all the technical requirements for the Advanced Project in the English Graduate Handbook. If you click on the link below, you can download a PDF of the handbook, which is located in the column on the right-hand side of the screen:
The purpose of this blog post is to provide tips and suggestions that you won’t find in the handbook. The following are reflections from my own experience writing an Advanced Project this semester. I’m in the final stages of my work and have developed a healthy (I hope) obsession with my project, so now seems like the right time to share what I have learned. It has been the best academic experience of my life and although the work was arduous, I always felt it was well worth it.
I recently interviewed Genevieve Aldi, a graduate of the English MA program, and she had this to say about her experience: “I really enjoyed working on my Advanced Project and having an entire semester to work on a paper, to read about a topic, and to research and develop my thinking about it. I loved having the time to write and rewrite, and to revise and rethink ideas over a period of months. It really gave me the chance to focus on an area of interest in a deep and critical way.” My experience has been very similar to Genevieve’s and this is due to a few different factors, all of which contributed to my excitement as opposed to angst when tackling this project. I want to share the following insight in the hopes that other graduate students may also have a positive and enriching experience writing their Advanced Project.
It is vital to choose a topic that moves you in some way. This project, if done correctly, will consume a great deal of time and energy. It is absolutely manageable if the subject is important to you or if it is a topic that you have a genuine interest in exploring. Look back at your best literary research papers and ask yourself these questions:
*Did I wish for more time and/or space to go further with this research or textual analysis?
*Was I being told to simplify a concept that I felt compelled to link with other relevant aspects within the text?
*Did I think about this paper after it was submitted, wanting to add to or enhance it in some way?
*Is this an issue that I have a passion for, or at the very least, a strong interest in? Basically, am I going to grow tired of thinking/researching/writing about this topic?
*Do I have a unique idea or “risky” approach that the time and space of an Advanced Project allows for?
Picking the ‘right’ readers is secondary in importance to choosing your topic. However, you don’t need to have a decision about your topic before you approach potential readers. In fact, many times the professors whom you discuss your project with are helpful in guiding you toward an exciting direction. The handbook recommends that you pick readers who are experts in the field of study you will focus on. While this is obviously very helpful and should be prioritized, it is not essential. There are a few reasons why this may not be possible. Perhaps you choose a topic that lies within no known area of expertise, or the professor that would be a good match is on leave, not available, etc. If you must abandon an expertise match-up, then try to find an expert on the text you wish to interrogate or incorporate some reader-specific knowledge into your project that will be sure to enhance it. Your readers are your guides and the more they know about the subject you are studying, the easier it will be for them to direct your research and your writing.
Aside from area of expertise, it is extremely important that you trust your readers. It will be frustrating for all parties involved if you question or doubt every suggestion that is given. Stand firm in the aspects of your project you believe are important, but be flexible and have confidence in your readers’ abilities; it’s the reason you chose them. It is best if your readers have knowledge of your learning style and have exhibited an understanding about the ways you work best. In addition, it is helpful if your readers are your ideological equals. If you don’t see the world in a similar way, it is likely that you will conflict over the interpretation of your chosen text.
Once you have narrowed down a few professors that may be appropriate readers for your Advanced Project, send out emails individually. In the body of the email briefly describe- in one paragraph-your ideas and why you think this professor may be a good fit as a reader. Ask for a meeting to discuss this further. Arrive at the meeting prepared to engage in a sophisticated discussion of your thoughts. Also, be prepared for the professor to direct you toward another member of the faculty that could be a more appropriate reader for your project. Talk to as many people as you can, because it’s always productive to explore your ideas as much as possible. In addition, getting feedback from various perspectives may provide insight about an aspect of your project that was not initially obvious to you.
Determining the exact roles that your readers will play in the development and completion of your project should be a collaborative experience. Typically, you choose a first and a second reader. The first reader tends to be more involved and he/she will be the first to sign off on your proposal and finished product. The role of the second reader is a little more ambiguous and tends to depend upon the individual situation. Meet with your readers early on and establish the expectations for your work: the timeline of the project, agreed upon deadlines, and level of involvement.
Once the plan is clear and you know what topic to pursue, it’s time to write a research proposal. This typically requires multiple drafts and again, it’s important to discuss expectations for the proposal with your readers ahead of time. Your proposal must be accepted the semester prior to writing the Advanced Project. If you are unsure of how to write a research proposal, call the writing center at: 454-5299, to set up an appointment. The staff members at the writing center are more than happy to assist with any aspect of the writing process.
Start everything (reading, researching, free-writing) as early as possible. For me, the most exciting aspect of my project is the historical context that I uncovered. It is startling how imperative this dynamic to literary analysis can be, as it completely changed the way I saw the novel I was working with, the characters, and the author’s intent. I recommend a frame of mind in which you imagine yourself creating a project that represents the culmination of your graduate work and most importantly, something you can truly be proud of. Work hard and constantly re-evaluate and re-examine your approach, your argument, and your rhetoric. Ask yourself: is this the project I wanted to complete when I started out? If the answer is ‘no,’ then keep working. While your Advanced Project may change dramatically from its inception, be sure that you are staying true to the reason you chose this topic in particular. It may just be that you haven’t gotten ‘there’ yet. Finally and definitely the most important thing to remember: Believe in Yourself. Others will follow suit, but only if you lead the way.
*All images retrieved from photobucket.com