Monday, October 30, 2006

What's been going on

As some of you may know or remember, I am in the midst of my fourth year of an Honours English BA at the University of Western Ontario, and looking to go on to get an MA and PhD thereafter. A large part of the stress of this final year is a result of the grad school application process, which is not exactly difficult, to be fair, but is nonetheless a matter of frustrating precision and timeliness. Deals need to be hammered out, letters of reference need to be obtained, and proposals for programs of study all need to be put together months in advance of the day anything even begins to be done about them, and the sum of the matter is that this, combined with the admittedly heavy schoolwork of a fourth-year student, has left me confronted with more "stuff to do" than I have ever before experienced.

So, that's why posting has been lighter than it should be. That, however, is not what I intend to talk about. Instead, I want to talk about grants.

Grants are the lifeblood of the graduate student universe. They pay tuition, provide for living expenses, pay off student loans and are, on the whole, tremendously wonderful things to be able to cite on one's curriculum vitae. They are a bright and shining beacon that draws other grant-giving entities towards one's rocky shores. If you were good enough for someone else, after all, why shouldn't they give you money, too? It sounds (and is) absurd, in many ways, but it's a fairly straightforward proposition. There's a certain amount of prestige attached to some of these things, and it's only fair that one should profit therefrom.

The two grants with which I am most concerned at the moment are the OGS and the CGS, being the Ontario and Canada Graduate Scholarships, respectively, though the latter is often referred to colloquially as a "shirk," after the acronym of the entity (the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, or SSHRC) that gives 'em out. The former is worth $5,000 a term, for a total of $15,000; the latter slightly more, for a total of $17,500. I'll be looking at about $6,000 in tuition, by way of comparison, so you can see how attractive these things can be. Assuming I'm granted one, I will use it to pay off my tuition, secure a nice place to live, and drop enough off of my student loans that the government offers a buyout option (which they do once you reach a certain amount left to pay). I will then pay that off with money earned through straight work and employment as a teaching assistant, which latter position is generally worth an additional $10,000 a year.

Now, this is all very much chicken counting, for the applications were only submitted within the last few weeks, and, at that, there's no guarantee that I'll even win a grant at all. The decision predictably falls to a series of committees and harried individuals of varying levels of charity, and it will be made largely based on my grades, accomplishments, and proposed course of research. The grades are above average in general, and slightly above the average of those applying for grants, so that's good. The accomplishments stand for themselves, for I have been blessed with a number of awards and the like that have piled up over the last four years, not least of which is the American Chesterton Society's 2005 Gilbert and Frances Award, about which we are always in such a flutter.

These are the tangibles, and things over which I currently have no control. The marks are in, the awards are given out, and that's the end of that. The proposed course of study is the only area in which I myself have any present clout, and it is about this area, naturally, that I am anxious.

Without going into unnecessary detail, I will say that my proposed area of study is Chesterton. Much as I would have liked to simply look at him in and of himself, however, that's not something the government is prepared to give me thousands of dollars to do. Rather I proposed to look at him as a precursor of sorts to various trendy modern theoretical notions like post-colonialism and certain aspects of cultural studies. Seemed convincing enough to the Dean, but it remains to be seen how the committees will react. I am of course hoping for the best, but I'm not holding my breath.

If things progress favourably, you will of course hear more. For the moment, though, that's what has been consuming my days.

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