Preparing for the Profession

The Literature Program is committed to preparing students for the profession and for a competitive job market. The Program encourages you to begin conceiving of yourself as a professional as soon as you join the Department. As you begin taking classes and become familiar with the Program’s faculty, students, and resources, take advantage of colloquia and panel discussions devoted to professionalization. And though the job market may seem a long way off for students beginning their programs, you should begin to maintain and periodically revise important documents. Also, it’s never too early to think of your current writing as preparation for future scholarly projects.

  • Conduct yourself like a professional in your seminars, and make your seminars work for you. Speak up; take initiative. Make presentations dynamic – don’t just read to your classmates and professor. Instead, make presentations interactive. As you present, ask questions and invite input. Everyone’s participation counts and can help you hone your ideas. These events are great practice for professional conference presentations.
  • Compose a c.v. and update it at the beginning of each semester (see “Guidelines for Academic Curriculum Vitae.) The c.v., like other important professional documents, will require careful development and revision as you gain experience and fashion yourself for the job market.
  • Use the graduate literature student Listserv as a space to engage in intellectual inquiry about scholarship and pedagogical issues. It’s also a great place to seek advice and get to know what kinds of scholarship students are engaged in here. Maintaining collegial relations with colleagues and faculty isn’t just an important part of the social life of a program; it also exposes students continually to the kind of vital dialogue and discourse one needs to develop for success in the profession.
  • Attend events related to the profession, such as guest lectures and/or seminars, poetry readings, or symposia.
  • Compose seminar papers with an eye to the future, that is, as the beginnings of possible conference papers,  dissertation chapters, or articles for publications. Note Calls for Papers posted around the Department and on the various specialization Listserv. Get involved with the English Department’s New Directions in Critical Theory conference, held every spring. New Directions encourages grad students from all the programs throughout the university to present their scholarship.
  • The English Department at the University of Pennsylvania hosts an excellent website with current announcements on Calls for Papers, panels, and special journal issues related to English and American Literature. To join their Listserv, contact Their website is
  • Conceive of your participation in conferences in terms of progression, from smaller conferences to larger, regional, or national conferences. Smaller conferences provide good practice to hone your presentation skills.
  • Make yourself familiar with the journals that cover your field or specialty.  Go to the library periodicals room for regular browsing. A useful practice is to try to read at least one article a week in your field(s) or related fields, familiarizing yourself not only with new knowledge or developments in the area, but with structure, rhetorical strategies, and varieties of style and voice in successful academic essays.
  • Start or join a reading group.
  • Join professional organizations such as MLA.  Each year review the MLA Annual Convention program and the Job Information Lists (JIL).  Both provide sources of information about what’s going on in the profession.
  • Develop a Teaching Portfolio. Gather syllabi of classes you have taught, or design syllabi for classes you’d like to teach. Compose a Statement of Teaching Philosophy and revise it periodically. With an eye to your eventual job interviews, ask yourself what you value as a teacher. What kinds of materials and texts do you find valuable in the classroom?  You should apply to assist professors in literature courses, either as a TA or as a preceptor.
  • When writing your dissertation, consider joining or starting a writing group of other dissertation-stage students.
  • The Literature Program now offers English 595A for students approaching the Job Market. Plan to enroll when you begin work on your dissertation.


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