Books that Cook
Professor of English Jennifer Cognard-Black's new book, Books that Cook: The Making of a Literary Meal, is being published by NYU Press this August.

Program Information

Ben Click, Chair
Professor of English

Office staff: 240-895-4225

Alumni—where are they now?

Monica Powell

Monica Powell (class of 2011) graduated with an English major and a WGSX minor. She currently lives in Washington DC, where she works in theatre education with the Young Playwright's Theatre and the Shakespeare Theatre Company.


Student Spotlight

Maria Smaldone

Maria Smalldone finds doors opening for her in Oxford, while studying at the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Do you want to do an SMP?

There’s no sure-fire way of making sure that an SMP is the right choice for you, nor of making sure that you complete one successfully. If you follow the suggestions below, however, and supplement them with advice from professors and more advanced students you trust, you’ll get a good start on the process.

Begin thinking about the SMP by the middle of your junior year. You don’t have to make any decisions yet, but you should take a good hard look at your interests and inclinations. Some things to ask yourself, or to do:

  • Is there an idea, a question, a set of texts that particularly excites you?

    You’ll be spending a lot of time on an SMP, and you probably don’t want to get yourself into it unless you have a passion for what you’ll be doing. Have particular classes really grabbed your attention? Have you noticed connections between classes or books—in English, or in other disciplines—that you think you might like to follow up on? If nothing comes to mind immediately, don’t panic—but ask yourself the question regularly throughout the year, and do push yourself to think hard about it.
  • Talk to other students, or recent graduates, about their SMPs.

    What are they doing? How did they come up with their project ideas? How worthwhile, how pleasurable, how frustrating, how stimulating, has their pursuit of their projects been? Ask if you can read, or look at, completed projects.
  • Talk to professors you feel comfortable with about their experience supervising SMPs.

    What kinds of projects have they mentored? Given your interests in X, what might they suggest you think about as a possible project? Is there anyone else they think you should talk to? Anything you should read?
  • Whether or not you have an idea you wish to pursue, think long and hard about what the demands of an SMP are, and whether you can make the commitment of time and energy.

    Doing an SMP presents you with a fantastic opportunity to direct your own learning; to explore ideas that interest you, rather than anyone else; to challenge yourself to think outside the box—outside a lot of boxes; to pull together the various threads of your education into something that meaningfully integrates the last few years of your intellectual and creative life.

    It also requires not only a lot of work, but a tremendous amount of self-direction. Although your mentor will help you, you’re ultimately responsible for determining the shape and direction of your project, the things you read, the kinds of research you do (archival research? interviews? computer databases?)—and, of course, your daily schedule. Anyone who’s ever worked on an extended project, without clear intermediate deadlines enforced from without, will tell you that it can be a bear. The first time you do it, you probably won't have a good sense of pacing, and you won't yet have figured out what you need to do to keep yourself on track. You can’t sit down and write an SMP the night before it’s due, or even the month before it’s due. Be advised. We warned you.

So now you’ve thought about it. If the answer’s "yes," now what?