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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Grad School, a tri-country experience

I am hoping it will be a job market advantage, that when I am looking for academic jobs near the end of my PhD, that I have gone to grad school in three different English speaking countries. 

When you travel as part of the academic crowd it is really easy to avoid culture shock because you are hanging out with the same kinds of people in each situation. They are always going to be people who enjoy talking about school, and your subject matter, but even on a deeper level the conversation is almost always interesting to you because you are all on the same page. The lack of culture shock could also have a lot to do with the fact that I don't really go anywhere particularly off the grid, and Canada has always been a mix of Britain and the United States, so some things are going to be familiar no matter what side of the pond you are on. 

My first MA was at the University of Nottingham. Things to know, England is HARSH when it comes to the grading. I mean, for one I had professors that pushed me, so they tended to mark what seemed a little harsh but was fair enough to push me to be better. But the whole system is harsh. 80% is the highest you could ever possibly go, and getting 80% would mean you get 100%, change nothing, you are a generally acknowledged genius. So 70% and up is a 'first' which is kind of like an A, but British-er. So 65% is a 2:1 standing, which is kind of like a B. If I had got marks that looked like that in undergrad in Canada, grad school wouldn't even have been one of the possible options, but it is actually not bad in England. But I am sure the harsh looking marks didn't help me at all applying to grad schools in North America. 

Western Michigan University
My most recent degree is my PhD from Western Michigan University. An A, which most grad students receive, is a 93%. 93%!!! To me the marks look ridiculously inflated. If I had done a stint at an American university (maybe not any university, but it seems like this is standard) I would probably have no trouble getting into any school I wanted in either Canada, or England, not because my work is that much better, but because the scale is so much friendlier looking. Though at WMU they only put letter grades on your transcripts, not numbers, which seems a little bananas. Also, I always give myself away as Canadian (in many ways) but mostly by calling them marks, and saying that I am marking, rather than giving grades, or grading, which I do sometimes say (since Canadians use both words). 

McIntosh Gallery University of Western Ontario
As in so many things, Canada is halfway between England and the United States. My second MA at the University of Western Ontario, people said basically as a grad student your mark falls somewhere between 78-82%. This is the grading scheme I was used to in undergrad as well. 80 and above is an A. You can get over 90%, but you would have to be pretty genius, again. Therefore, the marks don't LOOK as harsh as England's, nor as generous as the United States. They are exactly in the middle. 

Other differences, England had very few funding opportunities. North America, funding is expected, and it will also give you experience teaching to get that funding. Canada I was a TA in a class, leading my own tutorials, in a subject I had studied, with 40 students work to mark. United States, I am leading my own class, in a subject I am familiar with in a rather sideways way (you have to write I guess to study history) with only 22 students work to grade. There is a distinction between dissertation and thesis in England and USA, the words meaning slightly different projects, but not so much in Canada. 

Always, you take three grad classes at a time, though in the USA the MAs do less and take more time to finish. Always you are working like a madman to get everything done around deadlines. Mostly, the experiences are similar. What ends up as rather different is how Canadian you are around your colleagues. I have never been more Canadian than when I am not in Canada, and never more so than in the United States, where I seem to like to remind people of why I am different, and keep forgetting that things are not quite the same as at home, because it seems so similar. 

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