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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Dear Santa, I Love Your Book

One of the most tedious and disheartening aspects of preparing those dreaded statements of purpose is researching grad schools' respective faculties.  Tedious like a fox.  Disheartening like a pet fish.  Necessary like a honey badger.  Obviously, you want to do this for yourself, first and foremost, but programs also want you to see that;

1.) You care enough about the program to which you’re applying to research its faculty.  And on your end, you don’t want to TA for Dr. Acula without knowing beforehand, right?  (Scrubs reference, deal with it, jerkwads!)

2.) Your academic aspirations and style line up with someone else’s in the faculty.  What if you’re Dr. Acula and no one in the program can teach you how to harvest blood, or how to write a musical about harvesting blood?  That’s a bad match for both you and the program.

3.) And finally, nobody hates flattery
But really, come on.  Come on!  Maybe there’s one prof out there who you can honestly say you want to study under (for me, her name is Jeanne Marie Laskas and she writes in a way I can only hope to do some day), but after that, in all sincerity, does anyone really care?  Does anyone really know?  If most applicants are like me, I’m guessing they’ll probably give a school’s faculty the benefit of the doubt if the school’s flipping the bill for them.  It’s all about prioritizing when you’re poor. 

I’m not sure how it works for other applications, but when I applied to Creative Writing MFA programs last year, I scanned a program’s website for creative non fiction faculty, looked up their respective works on Amazon, found the one that most closely resembled my own writing, read a couple pages of his work, and then made some snap judgments of him in my statement.  Pretty standard I imagine.  I’m sure it's the same for theoretical physics applicants who look up the hot theoretical physicists of a program to say they’ve always wanted to work with those guys.  It’s just a matter of sincerity; fake that and you’ve got it made. 

Ms Frizzle or the guy who discovered the physics of the civil war beard?  Tough call physicists.  Tough call.

Dr. Silas McBeardmyer

It gets hard on the soul, however, when you continually prattle on about how big a dream it would be to work with some professor about whom you know just enough to be able to scribble down a sentence or two.  It’s how the game is played, but knowing so doesn’t make it any easier.  In most cases, you don’t even know what kind of person Dr. Acula is; what he cares about; how he treats his students; by God, does he even think that The Jerk is funny?  Just what kind of person is this guy for whom you have supposedly the utmost respect? 

Such deception to the program(s) to which you’re applying and to yourself is a necessary evil for an applicant's dreams, unfortunately.  But every once in a while you might uncover something vaguely human and even recognizable in someone.

Didn't think I'd double-up Lumbergs, did you now?
While researching one MFA program’s faculty today, I cyber-strolled over to a prof’s personal website where I discovered a personal blog.  A blog, you say.  A blog, I say.  And not just any blog dear reader, but the very same Google-run Blogspot blog that I have, with the same books-in-the-background template, no less!  I was glad to learn that I did in fact select the most professorial and grad schooly blog template Blogspot had to offer—score!  And maybe this is a little subjective, but I think mine is the superior blog.  I mean, he didn’t even have one picture of Bill Lundgren.  Not one!  Now I have TWO!  Who’s laughing now arbitrary grad school professor?  Who’s laughing now?... oh wait, still you…  

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