Graduate School Panel

By: Trevor Sooy, Class of 2019

This event was co-sponsored by the Career Development Center and the English department.

On Tuesday, April 5 the students of Hope College were fortunate to have the opportunity to hear a panel of Hope College faculty and alumni who majored in English talk about graduate school. This event was geared towards the logistic side of things, but there was still a time for question and answers, as well as a chance to socialize with alumni and current English faculty.

Four alumni, Marsha Davis, Raina Khatri, Rob Kenagy, and Kristin Brace were present, along with a long-time faculty member of Hope College, Bill Pannapacker. They all either attended graduate school, or are currently enrolled in a doctoral program. This allowed for some great insight due to the plethora of ages, graduate schools, and life experiences that were present. For many students, going on to graduate school can seem like a frightening thought or reality, but these panel members were able to answer various questions both from the audience and student moderators that put many worries to ease. The topics ranged from how to know if graduate school is for me to how a liberal arts college, such as Hope, prepared them for it.

The panel members from left to right: Marsha Davis, Raina Khatri, Rob Kenagy, Kristin Brace, Bill Pannapacker

A big question of the night was “how do I know if graduate school is for me?” Many of the panelists noted that it takes an enormous amount of time, money and risk. Rob Kenagy, a Hope graduate and now Assistant Professor of English at Hope College, stressed a simple question to ask oneself: “is writing, poetry, whatever, your life-long passion?” If you do not want writing to fully engulf your life, then no, do not go to graduate school. He continued his advice by noting that a student should have their passion figured out before going to graduate school. This will allow for a successful experience and make it worth your while. Kristin Brace re-emphasized Kenagy’s point by sharing that “if you want to be a better writer, be immersed, connect and work with distinguished writers and English professors, go to graduate school.”

Bill Pannapacker, Hope College’s DuMez Professor of English, also brought up the important point of what to look at in a graduate school and their program. Considering all of the resources that a student is going to have to put into this investment called graduate school, they should choose the best available to them. With a multitude of English graduate programs scattered across the country, where does one start? Pannapacker highlighted that it is important to look at the data on the programs you are looking into. How much debt does the student walk away with after completing the program? What is their success rate in placing students in jobs that they wanted to be in? Along with these critical questions, “you should be talking to a variety of people about the program.” This means currently enrolled students, students fresh out of the program, alumni, people on the job market that went through this program and faculty members. Lastly, “it is important for an honest appraisal. [This could mean scanning] twitter, blogs, or other various websites that rate English graduate programs.”

There is more to just graduate school than just deciding if it is for you and researching them. A proper undergraduate education is essential when applying to these highly selective institutions. Hope’s liberal arts education offers a host of advantages to prepare all students for these universities. Kristin Brace, a graduate of Spaulding University with a Master’s in Fine Arts (MFA) in fiction, noted all the benefits she had because she went to Hope for her undergraduate degree. A few notable things that she included was her involvement with the Visiting Writer Series, internships, and being able to talk and work with distinguished writers that came to Holland during her time at Hope.

This is just a summary of what happened at tonight’s panel, so if a current English student at Hope College wants to go more in-depth about a certain aspect of graduate school, there is myriad amazing faculty members in the English department that would be more than happy to discuss whatever it may be that is on your mind.  So while graduate school may seem frightful, Kenagy emphasized the rewards of going: “working with amazing people, doing the things you love, and gets you to a place where you want to be quicker.” Finally, it is important to note that Hope College is adamant about making sure opportunities such as this are always on student’s fingertips. It allows for them to explore the opportunities after leaving Hope’s boundaries and learn about different options that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.


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