English Department curls up with Top 10 salute

Photo of a woman behind stacks of booksGraduateprograms.com has named the NIU Department of English to its “Dean’s List” of top English graduate programs for “career support.”

NIU’s program was ranked ninth nationwide.

The career support category takes into account the quality of career planning resources and support received both during and after graduate school studies. Using a 10-star system, rankings were compiled from student ratings and reviews posted on the website from Sept. 1, 2012, through Sept. 30, 2013.

“I think the ranking speaks to our faculty’s commitment to the professionalization of our graduate students, as well as to President Baker’s emphasis on ‘student career success,’ ” English Chair Amy Levin says. “Our department does an excellent job supporting students in the classroom and beyond, and I think we’re getting better all the time.

“The recognition also reflects upon the fact that we’re helping students where they really need it, and that’s important in this job market,” Levin adds. “Even after students graduate and get work, we stay in touch. If they have questions or need support during the first couple of years on the job, they will often consult with faculty.”

Caresse John earned her Ph.D. in American literature at NIU in 2008 and now works as an assistant professor at Belmont University in Tennessee.

Amy Levin
Amy Levin

“Everything about my experience at Northern was fulfilling,” she says. “I had a wonderful support system within the English department.”

John recalls how professor Brian May, who previously served as the department’s placement adviser for Ph.D. candidates, helped her and other graduate students prepare for the job market by reviewing writing samples, assisting with job-related document preparation and prepping for interviews.

“There was no way I would have gotten a job if it wasn’t for Dr. May,” John says. “He was like a coach, mentor and cheerleader.”

John also received extensive assistance from Career Services, which helped her prepare her dossier and send it out to more than 50 prospective employers. Now, in her post at Belmont University, she finds herself helping graduate students prepare for the job market.

“They’re very grateful,” John says. “I always say to them, ‘That’s what someone did for me.’ ”

For students seeking to enter academic professions, NIU’s English department regularly offers professionalization workshops on such topics as abstract-writing, presenting at conferences and publication in scholarly journals. Professor Jessica Reyman, who now serves as the specialized placement adviser for Ph.D. students, provides hands-on assistance, including workshops on how to apply for academic jobs and mock interviews that drill down to such details as what to wear.

Students earning Ph.D.s in recent years have gone on to teaching posts worldwide, including at Miami University of Ohio, Utica College in New York, Murray State in Kentucky, West Virginia University Technical College, Northern Arizona University and institutions in Korea, Guam, Uganda and Thailand.

Mark Van Wienen
Mark Van Wienen

“We combine excellence in classroom instruction with personal attention to the goals of our students,” says professor Mark Van Wienen, English graduate studies director. “We have seven different M.A. programs, and each has a different specialized adviser paying attention to the needs of students in that program.”

Van Wienen says the department also seeks to “meet students where they’re at.”

“If their goal is teaching at a teaching-centered college, university or community college, we help them toward that goal,” he says. “If their goal is a research-oriented academic job, we provide the specialized training and model the research acumen and production for them to seek that goal as well. If, as does happen, our students do not achieve their goals in a first year on the job market, we continue to support them as they continue to seek employment.”

The graduate program in NIU’s Department of English is unique in its blend of the full range of English studies, and its alumni go on to a wide variety of professional careers, ranging from writing and editorial positions to higher-education posts.

On the M.A. level, concentrations offered include linguistics, English education, film and literature, British and American literature, literature and rhetoric/composition, rhetoric and professional writing and teaching English to speakers of other languages. The Ph.D. accommodates not just specialized study in literary genres and periods, but also the opportunity to explore interdisciplinary connections.

English Graduate Student Association logoThe same spirit of diversity can be found in opportunities for professional development. The department has a thriving English Graduate Student Association that plans a wide range of social and academic events.

Each spring semester, graduate students organize the Midwest Conference on Literature, Language and Media, which attracts presenters from across the nation. It also provides NIU students with opportunities to present their own work. Travel funding is available for students wishing to attend out-of-town conferences.

Additionally, graduate students have the opportunity to serve as editorial assistants for Style, an internationally recognized journal. And a large number of students receive teaching assistantships, which provide a tuition waiver, a stipend and invaluable professional experience.

Before starting their first classes, graduate assistants go through a week-long orientation program for First-Year Composition teaching led by Michael Day, Ellen Franklin and Eric Hoffman. Affectionately known as FYComp Bootcamp, the program provides state-of-the-art instruction in composition pedagogy that gives NIU students a tremendous employment advantage right from the beginning of their graduate education.

“So, from Day One,” Van Wienen adds, “English faculty members work to inspire their students, to demand much of them and to model professionalism.”

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