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Why I Chose IU

Claire van den Broek
1st year PhD student in the Departments of Comparative Literature and German, 2004

One cold and snowy winter’s eve, I drove my rental car into Bloomington, Indiana. I was exhausted, having just completed another university visit full of meetings with professors and students; I’m a pretty outgoing person, but even I had only so much energy to share. As I made my way through a strange town, and past the university, I decided to give Professor Marks a call on his cell phone, to ask for further directions to his house, where he and others were waiting. The phone rang twice. I was a little nervous, as most students probably are under these circumstances. Suddenly I heard the cheerful, warm voice of Professor Marks. He was happy I made it (as was I!), and would wait for me outside. As soon as I’d parked my car, he came up to me, and invited me into his house. I went up the stairs, entered the door, and in front of me I found a dozen or so friendly, smiling faces to welcome me.  Within minutes we were joking around as though we were old friends reunited. All I could think was: “I’m home…”

Over the next three days, I visited numerous professors, a reading group, lecture, and even a world class opera performance, of which there are many in IU’s famous Music School. I didn’t really know much about Indiana University, to be honest. I knew they had very good Comp. Lit. and German departments, and that I would like to work with Fritz Breithaupt. Coming from The Netherlands however, with a couple of years in Oregon, I really only knew about the ‘big name schools’. The kinds you see in movies about America, the Ivy Leagues, and places like UC Berkeley, NYU, U. of Chicago. Had I not visited IU, I would likely have chosen one of those instead. Yet I chose Indiana University, and I’d like to tell you why, and what I learned during my visits.

  1. Always visit a school before you make a decision. There are so many things that are more important than Ivy League names, and famous professors, and you will only discover them by visiting, and talking to professors and students. Ask questions!
  2. Ask about the success rates of recent PhDs on the job market. You’ll discover that many humanities departments at Indiana have a placement rate rivaling the most famous universities. In the end, you need a good job, and they’re hard to come by in Comparative Literature.  IU will be there every step along the way to make sure you finish your PhD and get a great job.
  3. Find a place that gives you excellent guidance and advising. Both professors and other organizations at IU regularly offer workshops to help you excel in research, writing, and of course teaching, syllabus design, etc. Professors are always happy to see you, and will give you their time and attention, regardless of whether you’re in their class, or if they’re your advisor.
  4. Look for a great department, not just a great university. IU may not be an Ivy League university, but it has a top class Comparative literature department, as well as some of the best language departments in the entire country. This is something I hear over and over when traveling to conferences, and speaking to people from other universities.
  5. If you don’t really feel at home in a Department, don’t go there anyway because it sounded good on paper. You’ll be miserable, and your research will probably suffer. That’s one thing I learned from several friends.
  6. One of the great benefits of IU, is that it is a large university in a small town. That means you get the safe, fun and friendly local community combined with the huge amount of classes that the university offers. Bloomington offers an amazing variety of international foods at bizarrely low prices, as well as classical music, theater, or opera performances happening every night of the week, thanks to the Jacobs School of Music which features famous faculty including Joshua Bell.
  7. Money! Of course money is a big deal, and you may be offered much more at other universities. This happened to me, but when I calculated the cost of living, I realized that Bloomington is exceptionally affordable, and you will probably have more left of your fellowship than you would have elsewhere. And remember, a university can offer you more money, but they cannot buy you happiness or success, so don’t let money be the bottom line in your decision.

There is one more thing that I want to tell you about. When you visit, people are on their best behavior, just like you probably are. (So if you go somewhere and people are apathetic or seem insincere, believe me: It will not get any better!) After I returned home from all my campus visits, I called my friends. Since I took a year off after my M.A., several of them had already started their PhD elsewhere. One after the other warned me: During their campus visits, everyone at each department had seemed to be best friends, and everyone said they were happy. Once my friends actually arrived however, they found that this was mostly an illusion. They warned me about my enthusiasm about Indiana University. However, I was so impressed by my visit, I decided to choose IU anyway. And I have no regrets whatsoever. On my first visit after accepting, my future advisor invited my husband and me over to his house for brunch, and we met one of his little children. Students added me on Facebook, and invited me to meet them over summer. I discovered that people were as nice as, or even nicer, than the first time I had met them. Student enjoy hanging out together, organizing events and parties, etc. And those students are amazing. Many of them have chosen I.U. over universities such as U. of Chicago, Harvard, Princeton, U.Penn, NYU, Berkeley, etc. and I am deeply impressed with their dedication, writings and comments in class. (Of course that does mean I have to work harder than ever to keep up!) IU has even been great for my husband, who found his dream IT job, within a month, working for IU. (Yes, in the economy of Fall 2008)

So above all, I want to share with you my relief, that Indiana University’s Department of Comparative Literature (as well as German) did not simply seem like a great place during my visit, but it is a great place, and I am confident that if you come visit us, you will discover the same.