Graduate Students in Their Own Words

Ashley McNeil

My experience as a Ph.D. candidate and teacher here at Georgia State has already been tremendous in ways that I could have never predicted, much less imagined. Our department is relatively large, and is thus able to boast a faculty that is diverse but strongly rooted in their specialties. Our graduate students naturally benefit greatly from such expertise. Importantly though, it is our department’s willingness and ability to promote new inter-specialty connections, pedagogical projects, and teaching opportunities that makes this program truly outstanding. As a graduate student, I have been mentored and supported by professors who take my somewhat non-traditional scholarship and academic inquiry seriously and who are not hesitant to rigorously challenge me. They push me to carve my own academic path, and they back me every step of the way. Likewise, as a teaching assistant, I have been supported in espousing a teaching philosophy based on pubic scholarship: I have been backed by our first-year writing director, department chair, and college dean, among many other professors and colleagues, in pursuing projects that reach into the greater Atlanta community in which GSU is uniquely situated.

Through the support I receive from our program at large and the professors I have been fortunate to work for and with, I know I am well poised to continue to uncover complex aspects of my research interests and engage my pedagogical aspirations as a teacher. If you are willing to be transformed by your community and desire to contribute to your community in return, you will quickly find that Georgia State will give you both that space and stability to do so.

Zack Rearick

Every graduate program has its academic strengths and weaknesses. Georgia State University’s PhD Literary Studies program is host to a large number of talented and accomplished scholars in many areas, and is run by faculty members (both in administrative and professorial capacities) who are as good as any you’ll find in a public research university, but what really sets GSU apart from other universities is its community. As a student and Graduate Teaching Assistant, I have experienced firsthand the kind of sincere encouragement and astute advisement that allows this program to foster thoughtful, motivated academics and teachers who are destined to achieve success no matter what they do post-graduation.

I came to Georgia State because it is a top-notch university capable of providing all of the tools necessary to allow me to be a prosperous academic, but I have found something here that I had only glimpsed during my interview process, something truly extraordinary. The staff and faculty in this program go above and beyond to put their students and instructors in positions where they can maximize their potential and learn from their (inevitable, as we all know) mistakes. I have never felt as secure and supported in any program as I feel here at GSU.

It is easy to find graduate students willing to talk about how wonderful their programs are, and rightfully so. But what makes the English department at Georgia State special is that it goes beyond academic excellence by genuinely caring for its students and employees in a way that is hard to find, in academia or out of it. I would recommend the PhD Literary Studies program at GSU to anyone looking not just for a challenging and productive academic environment, but also for a warm and authentic community, a home in the often (needlessly and wastefully) intimidating world of intellectual elitism.

Matthew Sansbury

Graduate studies in English at Georgia State are rigorous, dynamic, progressive, and outstanding. My life-changing experiences with the Master’s program convinced me to return as a PhD student in Rhetoric and Composition. The professors are extraordinarily supportive and knowledgeable, but I have also learned a great deal from my fellow students and colleagues. Words cannot accurately express the importance of solid educational communities to student development. Our department is home to several academic organizations, scholarly journals, and assistantships that also provide professional support.

I entered the academy with dreams of being a writing intern, journal editor, and college instructor; the Department of English at Georgia State has already provided me these experiences and so much more. I have also had the honor of serving as research assistant, working with several reputable professors on their own publications. The department offers opportunities to work with expert faculty, professionalization for upcoming scholars, and a sense of community with incredibly helpful members.

Jennifer Vala

The Department of English at GSU has given me more opportunities than I could have dreamed when I began the MA program. As a non-traditional student returning to school after more than a decade in the Atlanta arts community, I was nervous about balancing a full-time job with my studies. Even the idea of being back in the classroom was intimidating at first. Instructors like Dr. Chris Kocela, Dr. Audrey Goodman, and Dr. Pearl McHaney encouraged me, helping me develop my ideas about contemporary American fiction and showing me that I could indeed make this career change. It is entirely due to their support that I was able to publish my first book article in spring 2012.

Now, as a PhD student, I’m a Graduate Teaching Fellow and the Assistant Director of Lower Division Studies. The work I do in these positions helps me build my teaching skills while supporting other GTAs. In fact, it’s been my experience that each semester in the graduate program continues to bring new opportunities for scholarship, service, and professional development–all reasons to select GSU for graduate study.

Marcela Fuentes

The Creative Writing Program at GSU is a wonderful community of writers and scholars. I chose Georgia State University because the Ph.D. program provides an excellent mix of robust academic work and craft-oriented courses. Coming from a studio-style M.F.A. program, it’s been a fantastic experience to round out my knowledge of fiction-writing with literary studies in both prose and poetry. I value a strong academic background because I want to broaden my fields of teaching.

There are literally a thousand different opportunities to choose from at Georgia State. I am currently an Associate Fiction Editor at GSU’s literary journal, New South; I’ve worked on the literary studies magazines, Studies in the Literary Imagination and The Eudora Welty Review. I’ve even done translation and research on Islam in Latin America as a research assistant. In addition, I’ve been able to teach Creative Writing and both Composition 1101 and 1102, where I am currently putting together themed courses on music writing. The English department at GSU is a vibrant collection of thinkers and doers. It’s been fascinating working on these various projects.

Beyond all this, I’ve found the faculty to be generous, inspiring, and talented. I am lucky to be learning from people like Josh Russell, Dr. John Holman, Dr. Sheri Joseph, and Dr. Beth Gylys, all of whom have devoted much time and energy to my creative work.

There are so many positives for fiction writers in the Creative Writing Program and graduate students in the English Department. It’s definitely been the best of both worlds. I’m looking forward to exciting new research projects and finishing my first novel at GSU.