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Alumni Stories

Graduate School Student

Chris Small
Boston College, Boston, MA

January 2009 - As vice-president of my undergraduate Sigma Tau Delta chapter, a question often put to me by potential new members was in regard to what academic benefits could be gleaned from joining an honors society. There are a plethora of ways Sigma Tau Delta benefits undergraduates, but as a current graduate student, my purpose here today is to outline just a few of the ways Sigma Tau Delta prepares those who plan on continuing in academia after their undergraduate programs.

Community. We all have friends who enjoy discussing literature outside the classroom, and other friends for whom coursework closes as soon as class time ends. An honors society encourages a community of students who continue to be engaged in discussion beyond the time spent in class, exposing each other to material outside their current workload or the department's usual curriculum. This discussion of literature is in a context that fosters engagement with one of the most important issues facing literary studies today: how the study of literature engages with the greater world outside of academics.

Academic preparedness. Every semester, professors need to fine-tune their teaching style to the classroom population. We readily recognize that this means an English class full of freshman Mathematics majors will have a very different scope and direction than a class of senior English majors; but of equal importance is fine-tuning of the individual attention given to each student. All professors are able to identify exemplar students eventually, but belonging to an honors society means that those students are marked and identified quickly. A professor can provide graduate school-bound students an amount of encouragement and introduction to material beyond the curriculum that is invaluable to their future success. In my own experience, this meant a far better foundation in literary theory than I would have had in a basic course load.

Introduction to the trends, problems, and discussions in literary studies. Students entering graduate programs can expect far more than a few more years reading and writing about books. Graduate school means full-on engagement with departmental politics and disagreements about the place of literary studies, both within the English discipline and academia as a whole. In graduate studies higher emphasis is put on critical and theoretical frameworks, and students are expected to understand the critical landscape, and how that landscape has changed and will continue to permutate in the future. As members of an English honors society, students have more interaction with the department than most undergraduates, and are getting their first introduction to these conversations before committing to graduate school.

Being in an English honors society is an extremely valuable part of the undergraduate experience. For students planning on continuing a career in graduate school, undergraduate participation in Sigma Tau Delta is an excellent way of beginning to generate familiarity with the conversations surrounding literary studies, and prepare for the kind of environment they will find in their graduate programs. 

Christopher Small is an alumnus of Keene State College, New Hampshire and is currently working on his Masters in English at Boston College.