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How to choose a graduate program in Spanish, Master's and Ph.D.

When selecting a graduate program in Spanish, there are a several facts that you should keep in mind:

  • Never pay for a Master's or Ph.D. in Spanish. Universities that offer graduate degrees in Spanish often have well-developed undergraduate programs in Spanish, and they save a lot of money by using their graduate students as Teaching Assistants (TAs) to teach their undergraduate Spanish courses. If you accept a teaching assistantship, you should receive full tuition remission, and you should receive a salary for your work. TA remuneration can vary. For example, a few universities offer just over $13,000/year (2016) while New York University offers a TA salary of $18,000 plus a $25,000 stipend (free money), but NYC is an expensive city. According to the federal guidelines on poverty (2016), a single-income, single-person household with an income of $11,880 is considered to be in poverty. This means that you will earn a TA salary near the poverty level at some universities. If you are used to a different lifestyle, make sure you have other sources of income relative to the cost of living for that area. Note that some TA contracts disallow or frown upon employment outside of the TAship.
  • Examine faculty profiles to match your academic interests with the interests of one or more professors within the department. If you want to study Golden Age literature and the department doesn't have a scholar who publishes on it, perhaps you should look elsewhere. If you want to study Hispanic sociolinguistics and no professor lists it as an interest, consider looking elsewhere.
  • If available, examine current student profiles and their thesis/dissertation topics to determine if you would fit in. Match student profiles with faculty profiles to get a sense of what the academic foci are in the department. Whether you are writing a thesis (Master's) or a dissertation (Ph.D.), you will want to ensure that the department has scholars with the type of expertise you need.
  • Understand the importance of networking. Who you know matters in academia. A well-connected professor can give you a reference that will open doors. Fellow graduates may one day be in a position to influence a hiring decision in your favor. Co-authoring academic work can be an excellent strategy for exponentially increasing your academic productivity and recognition. This, in turn, can influence hiring decisions, salary decisions, and the speed of ascending from assistant professor to associate to full professor. While researching a department pay attention to where the professors earned their degrees, specifically their Ph.D. Where did the department's recent graduates go? You may notice regional hiring trends among universities, or special links across the country. If a Spanish program is on your short list, you would be wise to get a feel for the personal-professional network you would plug yourself into because where you go next could depend it.
  • Do not rely on mass-published university rankings. In 2010, the National Research Council published the most comprehensive graduate school rankings to date, and they included a set of rankings of U.S. Spanish departments. Some scholars consider the NRC ranking to be an attempt to rank the un-rankable, an attempt that gives way to many problems. The NRC has also been charged with making errors that, when corrected, completely change the rankings (evinced by the more-correct 2011 version available online). Perhaps most relevant to Spanish graduate students is the fact that most Spanish departments are small meaning the departure of just one (1) highly published professor could radically change the rank of the department. Further, the NRC ranking is based on information gathered in 2005, and it is not likely to tell you much about the department in . If that doesn't convince you to be wary of the NRC ranking of Spanish programs, consider the fact that the NRC literature reveals that the university professors they polled opined overwhelmingly that the productivity of a department's professors was the best indicator of the department's quality. Productivity is measured by the number of peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and books published by professors, and by how often their works were cited (their impact). Keep in mind that some academic journals are highly selective, and others are not. Since the NRC did not consider academic journal selectivity, the faculty productivity variable - the most important one - may not carry weight. This fact alone makes the results an utter crapshoot. As Benjamin Disraeli has been purported to have said, ""Lies, damned lies, and statistics." Create a ranking based on what's important to you, and keep the above points in mind when you do it. Read Hispanic Linguistics Master's and PhD Rankings to learn more.
  • Complete your Ph.D. degree in the United States...perhaps. At present (2014), if you want a U.S. university teaching position at a research university after you graduate, you may be passed over for the job if you completed your Ph.D. abroad. Why? Albeit an un-studied guess, the reason may be because a Ph.D. is a research degree, and foreign degree-granting institutions in Spain and Latin America may not train academic researchers with the same empirical rigor as institutions in the United States. This may or may not be an unfair assumption, depending on the case. Also, it's common to complete your Ph.D. in three (3) years abroad (as in Europe), so hiring universities in the U.S. may question the depth and breadth of the Ph.D. candidate's training if they studied abroad. This bulwark to employment is extraordinarily unfortunate for graduate students who would benefit greatly by living in a Spanish-speaking culture during their training. If, however, you would like to take your chances and do your Ph.D. work abroad, ensure that you study social research methods with aplomb, you network with U.S. graduate students and professors through social media, you present at U.S. graduate conferences, you find a U.S. professor to be part of your dissertation committee, and you publish as much as possible in highly regarded academic journals in English.
  • Plan on becoming a researcher, not just a domain expert. Many graduate students of Hispanic literatures and linguistics will later seek employment in higher education. If this is your goal, understand immediately that your career will have three main components: (1) teaching, (2) research and publishing, and (3) community service. From a purely economic viewpoint, teaching pays the university's bills, and yours. Community service, from the same viewpoint, is good publicity for the university, and for you. Research, coupled with publishing, will distinguish you from your colleagues, and it will advance your career - tremendously. It is safe to say that scholars of Hispanic linguistics and literature who know how to conduct research and get their research published will be far less likely to get stuck in "Lecturer Limbo" ad infinitum. A lecturer is the lowest on the totem pole among permanent teaching staff. Yet many lecturers have doctorate degrees and are as equally qualified as the "professors" who are paid much more and required to teach fewer classes (in rank order, Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, Full Professor). What distinguishes them, however, is often their research skills and academic publishing success. Here's the rub: too often lecturers are treated as grunt teaching labor and, to survive economically, they are forced to teach so many courses, and courses they don't like, that they do not have time to do research, improve their research skills, and publish (a time-consuming process that is sometimes emotionally taxing). This reality is well documented by the comments you can read online in the 2014 Petition to Cap MLA Executive Compensation. It's the academic equivalent of the rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer. How do you get out of the cycle? That depends on factors unique to each case. The best policy may be to avoid lecturer limbo by realizing early on that you must (not may) approach your academic career as being comprised of two larger, overarching components: (1) domain expertise, and (2) research expertise. The first, your domain expertise, is what you are studying, and probably the reason why you are going to graduate school for Spanish in the first place. The second, research expertise, is the set of skills you will need to be successful in the academic market. As soon as possible, even before you begin your program, figure out, for your domain of expertise, how research is done, and how academic authors get published. You can also read more about modern linguistic research here: Fall of the p paradigm: Modern methods for reporting linguistic research.

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Common Questions

  • What if I don't know what I want to study? Exploring your interests in graduate school is completely legitimate. If this is the case, it may be wise to choose a larger program (more professors and students) with a larger number of specialties. It is also advisable to choose a program that offers both literature and Hispanic linguistics. Switching between literature and linguistics happens, even for students who swear allegiance to one or another when they start their graduate studies. Be careful before you make an a priori decision to limit your options. You do not want to be part of the statistic "failed to complete degree" or "took more than 8 years to complete".
  • How important is diversity? Great relationships emerge from diverse programs, but so can tensions. If you are a native English speaker, for example, a native speaker of Spanish may help you advance your communication skills, but they may also seem intimidating. If you are a native English speaker in this situation, you will find that you have a unique, strong set of skills, especially when it comes to teaching English-speaking undergraduates (highly prized among employers). In fact, when you graduate and look for a job, some departments will consider you to be a multifaceted candidate who deserves extra merit for making your way to an advanced degree in your second language (your L2), Spanish. Embrace the diversity you find in Spanish departments.
  • What is the job market like for Spanish professors? The job market for Spanish professors in the United States is excellent compared to other languages. Still, landing a job can be a slog. Hiring decisions are made within the private realms of oft highly-politicized departments, and how departments arrive at their hiring decision can be a complete mystery. The best way to jump-start your careers is by following the points above, and reading the Academic Jobs Wiki for Spanish and Portuguese to discover the most recent job activity, job seeking problems, and Spanish departments with healthy internal politics, and those that treat applicants fairly as well as those that don't. In terms of trends in employment, you may want to keep an eye on the increasing demand for Spanish linguists specializing in Second Language Acquisition (SLA), Sociolinguistics, and bilingualism/heritage speaker linguistics. These trends are related to stunning population projections that indicate that Hispanics will outnumber all other minorities in the United States by 2050. At the same time, these Hispanics are regaining a sense of cultural and sociolinguistic pride that may very well lead to more and more U.S. citizens speaking Spanish in professional environments and in schools, even in parts of the country that are not usually known for diversity. Undoubtedly, there will be an increasing demand for services in Spanish, especially in education where there may be more jobs for Spanish educators who specialize in the unique needs of Spanish-English bilinguals.
  • How do I find a program? This website has a comprehensive list of Hispanic / Spanish Linguistic Graduate Programs, as well as a list of top graduate programs in Hispanic Literatures and Cultures. Examine each program using the suggestions on this page to guide you.

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