The Advisory Session is a panel discussion with four faculty members chosen by the Graduate Program Director with your input. It exists to help a person doing the MA / PhD track “pass” from one degree to the next and is therefore supposed to be completed by the end of your fourth semester. Not everyone has to do an Advisory Session. Only people earning their Masters at UMass and then going on for the PhD need to do it. People who come in as a PhD student do not have an Advisory Session.
For the session, you are asked to submit two seminar papers and a five-page paper to each of your advisors. How to choose your papers and what you should write in your five-page paper is a matter of some debate. Below are some experiences that will hopefully clarify what you can expect of the Advisory Session.
Ann’s Advisory Session
Topic: Renaissance Drama
First let me say, don’t stress. Everyone will tell you not to stress and you will probably stress anyway, but try not to. The night before I didn’t sleep very well, but my fears turned out to be completely unfounded. I only wish I hadn’t been so tired. So, again, don’t stress.
The Advisory Session was presented to me as an opportunity to have a “conversation” with the faculty in my area about my work and where I wanted to go with my studies. That turned out to be a fairly accurate description for me. I did not feel as if I was being grilled. In fact, I found it very useful.
I chose my two seminar papers based on interests and also the experience of writing the paper. At the time, I was considering both Renaissance Drama (which is what I eventually chose) and 19th C American Drama as periods of specialization so I chose one paper from each period. One of them had been a very easy paper for me to write; one had been arduous. I wanted to see if that came across in the writing. I also had alot of questions about my writing in general – whether it was interesting, made sense, made readers want to claw their eyes out, etc. I used my five-page paper to ask these kinds of questions. I felt like that helped me control the conversation. It gave them something to talk about, and I got my questions answered. They asked me questions like what I thought I might want to research and what kinds of classes I would like to teach, and then gave me suggestions about what kinds of things I might look into for research, even specific sources.
Bottom line: Perhaps unlike some of the other “hoops,” the Advisory Session exists to help you.
Sarah’s Advisory Session
Topic: Rhetoric and Compositions – Social Justice and Service Learning
First my preparation: 1) I worked very hard on that ‘personal statement,’ or whatever it’s called, to try to highlight the theme of social justice in my work and writing for Rhet/Comp, because that’s the main area I’ve been interested in. I worked closely with David Fleming, the chair of my committee, and he was very helpful. 2) I re-read the papers I was giving to the committee – a good idea. 3) I polished up my papers before I gave them to the committee – another good idea. 4) I reviewed all of the sources that I cited in my two papers – this was unnecessary. However, 5) I made a list of theorists that I could refer to – this turned out to be a good idea.
Show Respect for the Committee: We all sat around a big table, and the professors took turns asking me questions. One wanted me to give a short oral introduction, which I did – I started with “I want to thank you all for agreeing to be on this committee,” which I think is a good idea for anyone. Also, if you can compliment your teachers, genuinely, as you go along, this can also be helpful. For example, I learned [this important thing] from [the class you took with him/her]. I did that spontaneously, but I think it’s good to think about before, too
My Questions: They asked me questions based on my personal statement, or whatever it’s called, and my papers – but not very much on my papers. I was asked questions like: What does social justice mean to you? Why should we teach issues of social justice in the composition classroom? Do you consider classroom writing social action? Why? They also wanted to know: how does your interest in service learning relate to social justice? If you were going to design a service learning course, what theorists would you use? Can you describe your intellectual growth in this program? David asked: this paper you wrote truly supports a method of teaching which seems to work, but is currently rejected. How do you negotiate the tension between actual practices that work with more current pedagogies? One professor was interested in my taking literature courses as a comp/rhet student, and how they helped me in my field as well. He also suggested that I think more about my terms and complicate them more – for example ‘social change’ isn’t always a good idea. He also asked if I integrated issues of social justice into my classroom – if so, what did I do and why did I do it? This whole process was a dialogue of asking questions, my answering questions, and then more discussion based on my response. We really didn’t talk so much about my sample papers, specifically.
How I fielded the questions: The main thing I did was to listen to the question carefully and not to feel like I was on trial. I was nervous, but not too nervous, which I think is the right level to be at. Also, you can do that thing where you paraphrase the question back to the questioner to buy yourself some time. Also, smile a lot and be enthusiastic if possible. But no one was trying to be mean or trip me up, or anything like that.
The Result: In the end, they suggested that I work to define my terms better, and to ‘figure out what [I] want to know.’ I received a very positive report about this meeting and my writing in general, which made me happy.