Thursday, October 20, 2011

Considering Grad School? Do Whatever the Hell You Want

"*sigh* Poop." - Me, in a text to Erin

Sometimes I feel like my being considered an adult is an elaborate prank being played on the world, and I feel it with increasing frequency since starting grad school. People ask me what I'm doing for school, and I say "political theory" and it sounds very important and fancy, which is nice, except I know the reality of my grad school experience and feel like I am pulling off some kind of Ocean's Eleven grade heist of dignity. In truth, I spend much of my time complaining bitterly about math and procrastinating, and making jokes about Heidegger that are deeply inappropriate.

It's not that grad school doesn't take work, because it does, but in my case, being allowed to focus on what I love makes things much easier than when I had to muscle through, for instance, undergrad core curricula, about which I did not care. Instead, the work for me comes in the form of the DOING - the reading and writing and general getting things to the right people at the right time. There is plenty of hard thinking to be done as well, but because I enjoy that, it doesn't faze me.

Before I went to grad school, I got a lot of advice. A number of people told me various things I would need to do because That's How Grad School IS. None of them were right, and none of them were wrong. The thing about graduate study is that you are more fully in control of your academic destiny than you have been and will be, so How Grad School IS is contingent on your own initiative and relationship with your field and your department. This is why everyone was right AND wrong.

My Dad got his Masters at Shippensburg State University in Pennsylvania. He got admitted in an interesting way. He was out riding his bike and thought, "you know, I've been planning on popping in to pick up some information," so he walked into the math department, sans shirt, and wound up having a coffee with the department chair and one of his colleagues, which turned into an admissions interview. Did I mention that Dad went to Antioch College for undergrad, which did not give out grades? It didn't matter, because Shippensburg apparently liked what they saw and heard from Dad, and that was what mattered. Dad told me this story and finished it up with "the same thing could happen to you, you know," which sounds ridiculous because...that doesn't happen to ANYONE, Dad, but he's also kind of right. I COULD fall into a program or conference or academic drinking night by chance and have it turn out grandly, because that's how advanced study IS.

One of my mentors told me about his time in grad school, talking about how he buckled down incredibly hard for the duration of his program, eating Ramen because he didn't work because he was focusing on the Life of the Mind and what have you. He's also right. Both my Dad and my mentor are where they are now because of the way they chose to engage and capitalized on their graduate schools.

Now, there's probably an argument to be made that someone who sends texts that read "*sigh* Poop." to their cohorts should not be allowed near the Aristotle. But I also know that grad school is what I make it, and one of the things I choose - for myself and only myself - is to get through it with humor and a relatively low stress level, insofar as that is in my control. That's what I want of my experience, and other people will choose differently. The beautiful thing about academe is that you have that choice. When I talk about my undergraduate program, I often talk about two professors and the tension between the two of them. One is very much of the old school, "I will give you the wisdom of the ages - memorize it first, and then we can discuss a little," approach, whereas the other is less concerned with the material than teaching you to question everything that comes before you. It's the pairing that makes an Assumption College political science education so exceptional...not just the one or the other, but the combination of the two. There is always need for teachers of both kinds, and many more, and even more variety of people in non-academic fields.

Grad school is what you make it, in accordance with what you want of it. This is why, when people ask me for advice about applying and fields of study, all I suggest is that they know what they want to do with their degree after they obtain it. You need to know that to direct your study, and everything else comes after.

Posted on the move from my iPad; edits for grammar and spelling may be made at a later date and will be noted accordingly.

Location:Commonwealth Ave,Boston,United States

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