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What is the best area to study if I want to teach English and Literature in college?

I am interested in becoming a college Literature professor. I am almost complete with my Master in Literature and I would like to know what steps I should take next when pursuing my PHD in Literature. Would it be best to focus on a general English, general literature, or should I narrow it to a field within English or Literature. Such as Grammar for English and/or Historical pieces like Romance Literature of the Renaissance Period? If I focus on a period, will that limit my ability to teach any form of English or Literature.

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Michael’s Answer

Great questions! So, I completed my Master's in English last summer and started teaching as an Adjunct Professor this past Spring. I have noticed that as an Adjunct, part-time, Faculty member at the Community College level, the bulk of classes assigned are College Composition courses. When I was looking to apply for Lecture positions at the university level there was a more specialized focus on specific classes that one could teach like American Literature, Romantic Literature, etc.

I will start my Ph.D. in the Fall at one of the University of California schools. I definitely will be specializing in coursework that aligns with my interests and building research around that. I will also say that you have to keep in mind that you have to complete a dissertation- a book-length piece in order to be awarded your Ph.D. Therefore, you must narrow the scope of your studies to create something manageable to finish your studies in a timely manner. Much to Sarah's point, keep in mind the type of jobs you're looking for. What type of institution are you looking to teach at? If it's at the university level then you'll be able to teach advanced classes and even your research, which can cover a myriad of topics since English is seen as an interdisciplinary discipline. If it's the community college level then most of what you'll teach will be various college composition courses and broad-scope literature classes like the survey of American Literature, the survey of British Literature, etc.

So, I would start researching the programs you are interested in. They usually have you pass field exams, in which you specialize in various subfields/periods of English. Find out which periods you are the most comfortable with and then start reading some of the professor's work you want to be mentored by. Also, look at what classes they teach to get an idea of what you would be teaching if you had a similar specialization as they do. I hope that helps and good luck!
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Tamara’s Answer

Hello Jonathan,

The academic environment has changed a great deal over the past decade—especially during the last few years. In addition to the advice shared by others, try researching the current and possible future condition of the humanities and the sub-fields that are on a decline, an incline, or in stasis if you haven’t already. Try researching the rate those with doctorates in sub-fields in the humanities are hired, where they are hired, the retainment period, how many obtain tenure, etc. if you haven’t already. The MLA website contains a good amount of this information that might help inform your decision.
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Fernando’s Answer

When it comes to teaching in universities a masters degree is more than enough to land a job. If you're looking to further expand your credentials I'd say try not to hyper focus on one subject matter. Most English courses cover a variety of subjects and it's important to be knowledgeable in most of them. That being said if you're looking to specialize in one area of English in particular please look up if said areas are in demand. Study the current job market to see what jobs are available as soon as you finish your PHD. The benefit a specialized field of teaching gives you is usually the salary.

I'd recommend taking time to reflect on what type of teaching style or area of English you wish to teach, and what college level of teaching do you want to go into.
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Sarah’s Answer

Great questions! I was a Literature and Writing professor at various colleges for several years. Some colleges called us "professors" while others called us "instructors" or "adjunct instructors." I even worked for an institution that referred to us as CWIs (pronounced "see wees") for College Writing Instructor. I considered myself a professor.

I never pursued my Phd. I actually ended up going into EdTech instead. But when seeking counsel from my professors during my second Masters program three things stood out to me:

1. Find out where the need is greatest and lean into those areas;
2. Be careful about being too specific. This may force you into an area you may not be too excited about later. Unless this is something you are passionate about and you may see yourself doing other things around this area (i.e. Writing a book, starting a business, etc), keep it more general;
3. Keep your eye on places you would like to work in the future and see what their job postings and requirements are when it comes to areas of study.

Sarah recommends the following next steps:

Keep doing your research and you will find what fits for you.
Stay connected with other professors on LinkedIn or in person to help guide you through this process.
Follow schools you admire, or places you'd like to work and follow their employees' professional journeys.
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