On 10.10.10. I crossed off a very important bullet from my life list. I graduated. I finished my Master of Arts in English, after three and a half years. Well, four, thanks to the system-wide strike. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to me and how much that ceremony reflected the culmination of a long while’s trials and tribulations.
I am finally graduated. Twice! From the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, better known to us locals by its acronym: RUM. Why yes, we do have drinking tendencies, thankyouverymuch. We are one of the few schools that can boast about being right next to a brewery! Anyway, I am now a third generation Colegial, as my grandfather and both parents attended the school. It seemed only natural that I go too.
I started my Masters Degree not necessarily because I wanted to, but because I needed to. I had been offered a job as an editor for a relatively high profile journal and I needed to be enrolled to work. Oh well, why not? It’s not like I had something to do anyway. I had planned in coursing graduate studies, but this had happened in one fell swoop. This degree wasn’t necessarily the one I wanted (it is mostly education based; I got away with focusing on literature), but it could help me get where I want (writing & editing).
So I did it. Was it wrong? Probably. Do I regret it? No, not one bit. Even though you can ask everyone that ever knew me throughout my MA tenure that I hated a good chunk of it, what I enjoyed was even more. My MA research took me to Oxford and Harvard, it gave me a chance to sit down and make myself write. It made me find my own voice and stick to it, no matter what. After all, it was my project that was going to determine if I graduated, not some fool who didn’t want to let me go on.
Which is why I bring to you some dos and don’ts of graduate school. These are just a few that I’ve lived by; I’m sure there are other perhaps even more helpful guides. These are just my two cents. I think a handy guide might’ve helped me avoid massive disasters, but then I’d be different. I wouldn’t be the same. Faults and all, I’m happy this way, and this experience has given me many things to remember.
First of all, do it because you need it. I don’t mean need it for a job; I mean need it for yourself. You’ve got to do it because you’ve got a fire in you that won’t be satiated until you get this done. Don’t do it for money or because you think you should. That ‘s just going to guarantee you years of pain. And excessive eating and drinking.
Second, do it on something you enjoy. Really enjoy. Otherwise, you will regret it. You will be living, breathing, eating, dreaming, screaming about this subject for at least two years of your life, so it’d better be something you’re fond of.
Third, have fun. Above all, have fun. You’re starting out on a whole new adventure. Of course, you have to take your grades seriously (graduate degrees demand a continuously high GPA), but don’t let it consume you. Go out for drinks or dinner with your friends from class. Make fun of the library website. Play scrabble during that one boring class you all loathe. Above all, build memories that you’ll be fond of in the future. It’s going to be better to recall that than whine for life about Ms. Carruther’s lame copyright and plagiarism jokes.
Fourth, things will get odd. If you choose to continue your graduate degree in the same school where you pursued your Bachelors, things will get awk. Or as my friend Zeynep says, shit got awk. People you’ve known for the last years may suddenly change and become assholes who will cut your throat for an assistantship. The people you used to loathe? They may become your best friends. Some will stay the same, but the pressure to live and let die in a highly competitive academic environment may get to some people’s heads. Stick it out, things will get better!
Fifth, always remember. You don’t have to do this. If you start it out and then realize it’s not for you, quit while you can. As some would say, cut your losses. Take the time to re-evaluate your decision. Why are you doing it? Why didn’t it work? Is it just this program that you’ve chosen or do you simply desire not to proceed with graduate or post-graduate studies? Whatever your feelings are, make sure to listen to them. Starting a graduate program doesn’t mean that you have to finish it or follow through. Specially if it’s something you’ve realized you abhor.
Finally, this too shall pass. If you’re feeling fed up with your project, professors, classmates, whatever, but you still care about what you’re doing, take a deep breath. Count to five. Punch a pillow. Go for a jog. Hell, eat a Twinkie if you have to. Just relax. If you know that graduate studies are for you, this is just a blip in the radar. Focus on something else for a while until you get back into your groove.
I hope I helped some of you decided whether or not graduate school is for you. It's not a choice for everyone; it's something that required deep thought and consideration. But once you know it's for you, you've got a great thing going on!