Grad School Reflections

The Good and the Bad from Year One

Source: Pexels

Last month I finished my first year of graduate education, reaching the halfway mark towards earning my M.A. in English.

*Hears the internet clapping*

Like all great scholars, I had few expectations for what grad classes in English would be like, and what being a part of a graduate community of students would be like.

I’ve been open to admitting that I entered the program naively, diving right-in in-spite of all the reasons out there dissuading you from (blindly) furthering your education.

It was a definite leap of fate.

Pursuing a master’s degree filled the “I’m not sure what to do with my life” void — with no telling if I’d land on my feet or not.

I thought it’d provide me a purpose, perhaps a direction in my early 20s…with everything else feeling so directionless.

There certainly were times where the grad school naysayers seemed right, and where I sort of regretted my decision to throw more money and time at this education thing.

But there were better and brighter days too, where graduate English classes felt like home — felt like my calling.

Here’s a look at “the bad”…and later, “the good”.

Opportunities Outside of the Classroom
One of the biggest attractions for me about a graduate program was this idea that I could do more. What do I mean by that? I’m not even sure, to be honest. But I think I expected to involve myself in academic work and projects that occurred beyond the weekly class meetings — things that brought members of the community together to share in the love of, well, whatever really…writing, research, literature — the whole shebang.

Perhaps becoming a T.A. or G.T.A. for a professor. Attending program events and listening to guest speakers or lecturers.

I did none of that. I saw my classmates and professors for 3 hours each week, and then we pretty much went our separate ways.

After the Fall semester, I attempted to work as a writing tutor at my college’s writing center. I went through an interview process, but was ultimately not selected. That was definitely one of the lower moments of the year.

Not Enjoying the Material
A main objectives of the classes I took was to broaden one’s knowledge of the entire subject of English. Though much like other liberal arts degrees, the study of English is so vast.

For instance, literature is only one aspect of English — though within literature itself there are different time periods and movements and authors to look at.

The bottom line is that, if you study English, you’re (probably) not going to enjoy every work of literature nor every specialized area of literary studies.

So there were definite weeks where what material we were studying just didn’t interesting me much. I’d skip out entirely on class meetings where I just couldn’t find the motivation to immerse myself in the material.

An integral to a M.A. level courses (in English) is to expose students to a range of new and different material. I guess it can’t all be the most palatable.

Staying So Close To Home
Don’t read this, Mom and Dad.

After doing my undergrad in a different state and entirely different region of the country, I was looking forward to sticking closer to home to complete my master’s degree.

While there was initially a wonderful comfort that came with it, I quickly realized how limiting a return home could be on my growth as a person and as a student.

A very “Thoreauvian” belief — I find it incredibly valuable to put yourself in an unfamiliar place or situation, forcing yourself to adapt and find your footing.

I enjoy Northern Virginia immensely — it’s beautiful — but I’m a proponent of losing yourself in order to find yourself.

Falling in Love with English…Again
Without grad school, I never would have realized how little I actually knew about English, literature, and culture.

A buzzword that I often see thrown around the ol’ English classroom is “interdisciplinary” — which essentially means that you can study just about anything through the lens of English and literature.

The biggest one for me has been food and the environment. I obviously knew people wrote books about the environment, but I didn’t realize colleges cared about it.

Small, Fun, Discussion
When I take a step back from the classroom — from tests and essays and projects — I realize that it’s only English.

There’s absolutely no reason to stress over a subject matter that’s important and interests you!

I think about people who take a film class. They watch a movie, go have a discussion all about it and learn things they didn’t know before. It’s not meant to be difficult and super strenuous.

Likewise, discussing a book for 3-hours with likeminded people is as good as it gets. And with fewer people, the setting is more intimate and less intimidating.

Overall I very much enjoyed how a graduate English class operated from week-to-week.

A Step Forward
For the first time in a long time I feel like I’m on an upward trajectory.

In a relatively short period I’ve taken-in a greater knowledge of English and drastically improved my skills in reading, analyzing, researching and writing.

It definitely feels like I’m building towards a vocation as I gain more and more expertise in the field…and that’s an exciting prospect.

A question I did not have a good answer to a year ago was, “what will an M.A. in English get me?”

It’s not as simple and straightforward an answer as other graduate or professional degrees. “Earn a _____ degree and become a ______.”

Yet I do see great value now in earning a master’s in English.

For one, it has sharpened my skills and broadened my knowledge bank — obviously indispensable in life.

But I also understand this degree as a valuable stepping stone towards whatever comes next.

At this point my heart says doctoral studies, which is something I never imagined doing even a year ago. Who actually gets a Ph.D.? What?

Beginning graduate education has already brought a lot of ups and downs for me, but it seems like more ups and optimism for the future…and at this juncture, I believe the good is surely outweighing the bad.

Naturalist + Old Man at Heart

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