So, you’re thinking about five more years of academic work post-masters. Five more years of espresso-fueled nights, of living with three roommates in a 700 square-foot apartment, of relying on the divine blessing of Moe’s Mondays to provide you at least one affordable meal per week that doesn’t come out of a box, all to write an obscure dissertation that no one will every read except your doctoral committee. Yes, you say, it’s a passionate and romantic adventure; I’ll sip vinegar like Byron. I’ll research and teach and write, and I’ll sleep among the library stacks when I’m too tired to go home. I will toil and strive until I finally publish those select manuscripts that exhibit my potential and secure me a tenure-track position at a research university. Yes, this is what I will do and, even though it may be quixotic, I don’t care–I’m going to do it.
Good deal. Me too.
Cynicism aside, pursuing a Ph.D. is actually quite enjoyable. If you like a blend of teaching and research, if you enjoy the challenge of identifying deficits within academia and trying to use your own talents to fill those voids in creative ways, then you may very well be built for doctoral work. No, you probably will not realize the starry dream of sitting in a leather chair with pipe smoke whirling about you surrounded by old books that look like stacks of parchment, all while advising undergrads on ideas of meaning and truth like some Gandalf-esque sage. However, though the market is very tough right now, it is possible to achieve teaching and research positions in all levels and categories of both secondary and higher education, and there are even more options in the private sector. In short, the skills and experiences that are to be found while advancing toward a Ph.D. are valuable and, indeed, enjoyable. But at this point, I believe the real question you have is this: will my degree from the Universidad de Alcalá situate me to apply for doctoral programs?
Well, it’s complicated. Yes and no. I can only speak from my own experience, which is a bit unorthodox. Thus, what follows is more of a case study than a general rule. The route I took to get to doctoral work was undoubtedly shaped by my experience and degree from Alcalá, though I can’t say for certain that it defined my candidacy.
Let me give you my background, briefly. I majored in Spanish in undergrad. I then entered the Teach & Learn program at Alcalá in the 2010-2011 academic year, and it was during my time there that I discovered that teaching was my future career. I fell in love with the students, the collaboration, my school, pedagogy, all of it. For me, the graduate experience at Instituto Franklin was nothing short of life altering. The maturity, knowledge, and skills that I gained through the program rearranged my internal structure. I returned to my home state of Florida after graduation and decided that I wanted to be an English teacher. I was freshly minted and energetic, ready to teach and make a difference in students’ lives. There was only one problem, as you have already guessed: I had two degrees, neither of them in English. I had a BA in Spanish and a MA in Bilingual and Multicultural Education. So, what to do? I enrolled in a second round of graduate school, this time studying English literature. I realize this may seem like a step backwards, but there is really nothing else to be done when you want to switch academic fields. But, I did not have to leave teaching altogether. I secured a job as a Spanish teacher, so I was able to teach during the day and take my graduate courses at night. As my English graduate work came to a close, I realized that I wanted to continue exploring literature and literary theory at a deeper level; I wanted to do a Ph.D. And I am. Currently, I am in my second year at Auburn University, and I love it. I get to teach, research, and serve on student committees. If that sounds like something you desire, you may be a fitting candidate for doctoral work.
Now, back to Alcalá. How much did my education there set me up for my current position in the States? It depends on what you mean. If you are talking about the degree–the piece of paper–I will say that it has gone a long way for bolstering my C.V. and distinguishing me from other candidates. Many people have study abroad experience but very few have an actual degree from overseas. In an era of global interactions and international dialogue, this is invaluable. It immediately sets you apart from competitors. This exotic quality notwithstanding, I do not think that with my MA from Alacalá alone that I could have made it to the Ph.D. level. And this should not surprise you. I switched fields. An MA in bilingual ed. from any institution does not really set you up for studying literary theory. Additionally, Ph.D. programs are interested in your research interests and current pursuits, which can be the primary focus of Teach & Learn but only if you take the thesis very seriously. Unfortunately, you now see the problem with my story; there are too many variables to draw a firm rule or conclusion, no control group from which to derive data. But even with all of these variables aside, an MA from Alcalá may not be enough for some institutions to admit you to their doctoral program. Because there are so many applicants out there, some schools may not take the time to research Instituto Franklin and place it on an equal playing field with programs already familiar to them. In other words, the degree may or may not be enough; it depends on what you kind of program you want to enter, and it will vary amongst the institutions to which you apply. It is therefore best to email the program directors of the schools your looking at and have a conversation with them about their expectations and stipulations for applicants.
Lets go back to the two-fold connotation of education for a moment. The degree itself is one thing, but the cumulative effect of the program is another. I am certain that my time at Alcalá enriched me intellectually, expanded my capacity for understanding and empathy, dismantled my presuppositions about different peoples, provided me with vocational skills, and invited me into a network of like-minded colleagues. Sin duda. Now, if you have just rolled your eyes at this seemingly mawkish answer, I would suggest that you do not understand the purpose of education, which is troubling, since you are a teacher. Is not the core of education to develop and even reconstitute character? Of course it is. And though such things are intangible, they are no less material. The degree itself has limitations on a C.V., but there is no doubt in my mind that the education I received at Alcalá prepared my entire person for a Ph.D. program. So for those of you out there who want to go into postgraduate work wondering if you have wasted your time in Spain, you have not. You may have to jump through a few more hoops to get there, and that may seem unfair, but it is the price of non-convention, of creativity, of self-examination. And, if you have treated your time in Madrid as such, you are so much the better for it and well prepared for your next academic endeavor.