Spanish PhD applicant with no research experience

I am looking to apply directly to top PhD programs and maybe a few M.A. programs this cycle. For the most part my stats look good, 3.89 GPA from a 4-year private college, on track for a solid GRE score, good letters of rec. The one thing my CV is majorly lacking is research experience.

I completed an undergrad thesis for my Comparative Literature major, and have done plenty of research papers in classes, but that’s it. I have never had the opportunity to be a research assistant, and I’m not sure how much that even happens in my field.

I am wondering if it is an expectation even in Spanish that I will already have research experience on my application, and if that is indeed the case, what some ways to go about getting that experience might be so I can set myself up as best as I can for my long-term goal of securing a professorship.

I would ask the Spanish Departments in the schools on your list or more specifically the faculty members that you hope to work with. A thesis based Master’s would help you gain the experience, as you seem to be already aware. Is your undergrad thesis publishable?

Also, ask your current professors how much research experience they had when they applied and which schools they attended. It is a good way to bond with them and prepare them for writing your recommendations.

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A PhD is definitionally a research degree. If your only experience of research is an UG thesis from secondary sources you haven’t really had a chance to figure out if you like research. The key pieces of a PhD are that you 1) know the subject well enough to teach it, 2) can ask a research question and answer it (harder than it sounds!) and 3) make a novel contribution to your field.

When you apply for a PhD program you have to write a statement of purpose. For example UVa asks you to: “describe your preparation for this field of study, research interests, future career plans, and intellectual or life experiences in order to aid the admissions committee in evaluating your aptitude and motivation for graduate study. Your commitment to a selected field of study is presumed in the receipt of your application; instead, please discuss specific issues in the field that engage you.”

You say that your goal is being a professor- but that is not what they are looking for in the admissions process.

To be admitted to a Ph.D. program in literature, formal research experience is not expected, but the committee will look very closely at your writing sample, to see if it shows promise for future original research (in your case, it will probably be a portion of your undergraduate thesis) and at your statement of purpose, which should show your familiarity with the field and some well-defined (but not finalized, of course) research interests. Of course, if you have publications or awards as an undergraduate, it’s a huge plus, but it’s not common and not expected.