College of Arts and Sciences

New Curriculum: Frequently Asked Questions

Why did you revise the curriculum?

We had four goals:

  1. Update our curriculum and course offerings to match contemporary English studies;
  2. Fix the foreign language requirement, which was problematic in many ways;
  3. Ensure individual student needs are met;
  4. Streamline requirements and revamp the program’s exit options.

What's new?

    1.   The two-track system of “literature” or “writing” was replaced with individualized programs spelled out in the “plan of study.“ We believe this will meet student needs far better than the previous system.
  • The foreign language requirement has been eliminated, and its three hours shifted to required elective coursework.
  • The “two-seminar option” has been eliminated, and replaced with a capstone course exit option.
  • Course offerings have been extensively revised. Instead of focus on period-based studies of American and British literature, we have created courses which far better reflect the structure and diverse content of contemporary English studies.
  • Students are now required to have a faculty mentor.

What is the "plan of study?"

The plan of study outlines your reasons for seeking the MA in English. All entering students will file a plan of study when first admitted into the program, after consultation with both the Director of Graduate Studies in English (DGSE) and their faculty mentors. Initially, your plan will focus on scholarly interests, courses you would like to take, and expected academic or career paths after graduation. As you proceed through the program, we will ask you to update this document to show your research and teaching interests, scholarly focuses, selection of exit option committees, etc. At the very least, updated plans will be filed when students earn 15 hours, and right before graduation. We believe this will help you build credentials and get the most out of your studies.

Is the “plan of study” the same as the degree plan?

No. The degree plan is a requirement of the School of Graduate Studies. The plan of study is meant to serve as a map or guide as you make your way through the program; the degree plan is the final and official result. We recommend you wait to file your degree plan until your last semester of study; if you file it earlier and want to change it, you’ll have to file a petition. We will use your plan of study to ensure you are on track.

Why did you drop the foreign language proficiency requirement?

Most faculty believed a single course in the history of English didn’t meet student needs. On the other hand, a more robust requirement was impractical: Western’s foreign language course offerings are too thin (especially in the Quad Cities). However, we highly encourage any students considering further graduate study in English to acquire language skills--at the least, reading proficiency in at least one language other than English. Consult your faculty mentor or the DGSE if this issue concerns you.

What is the “capstone course?”

It is the equivalent of a thesis, but structured around a final examination instead of a long written project. Like the thesis, you and your supervisory committee will determine the structure and content of the coursework and the examinations with program guidelines in mind. These guidelines and the required forms involved in the capstone course are on the program’s webpage.

What's new about the list of courses?

Nearly everything

  1. We eliminated the distinction between 500-level “courses“ and 600-level “seminars.“ The 600 level is now reserved for special courses like independent studies and the exit option. All regular courses are at the 500 level, and follow the seminar model: intensive, rigorous, and theory-driven.
  2. We created quite a few new courses which allow faculty to teach up-to-date content which match our strengths and research interests.
  3. We divided courses into three areas distinguished by numbers: literary studies (530-549), disciplinary studies (550-579), and writing studies (580-599). Each area includes an “Issues“ course with a number ending in “9.“
  4. We wrote descriptions which allow more flexible content in courses, so faculty can teach to their strengths.

Aren't there fewer courses now?

Yes. We would rather offer fewer courses (about 15) and ensure a more consistent rotation between them than have a long list of courses which are never taught. We hope to teach every course no less than once every two years.

Am I required to take at least one course in “writing studies,” in “literary studies,” and in “disciplinary studies?”

No. However, we recommend you strive for a diversity of courses in your first semesters of study. As you develop a research agenda, consult with your mentor and supervisory committee to select courses which match your interests and allow you to build a coherent curriculum.

What’s special about 600 level courses?

All involve individual work, such as an internship or writing a thesis. Keep in mind you are limited to six hours of independent study, internship, or courses from other departments.

Can I take graduate courses from other departments?

Yes. You may take as many as you like. Up to six hours can count toward your MA in English (if you do not take independent studies).

Why am I required to have a mentor?

Faculty mentors help students develop their professional goals and cultivate their academic interests. Mentoring complements the advising performed by the Director of Graduate Studies in English and the intensive academic relationships students will develop with faculty while completing their degrees. Ideally, mentors and mentees will communicate informally as needed, building strong rapports as students work through the program.

Can I switch to a different mentor?

Yes, as long as the faculty member would not be overloaded with mentees.  Contact the DGSE  to request a change.

What’s the difference between my mentor and my supervisory committee?

Mentors are assigned when you enter the program. They provide help from your first semester forward, answering questions about course scheduling and other issues. As you take courses, develop a research agenda, and get acquainted with our faculty, you build your supervisory committee, with whom you will work very closely as you complete your exit option. We encourage you to keep in touch with your mentor throughout the program. You may ask your mentor to serve on your supervisory committee, though it is not required.

If I am already in the program, will my coursework still count?

Yes. In most cases, previous courses count as electives.  Contact the DGSE  if you have questions about a particular course.

Am I required to switch to the new program requirements now?

No. Students who have already completed work in the English are not required to switch to the program’s revised requirements. These students have three years to complete the requirements of the old program. After Fall 2011, all students will have to switch if they have not done so already.

Should I switch?

Current students are encouraged to switch over to the new program now. The requirements are administratively less troubling.

If I stay in the old program, how can I fulfill the requirements for seminars?

You will need to petition to have a 500-level course count as a 600-level course.  Contact the DGSE  for assistance.