So, I have some important updates! After committing to a graduate assistantship that began in July, beginning my graduate program in August, becoming a representative on the graduate student council…I have officially walked away from my graduate program and school. Yes, that’s right. I left graduate school this past week.
Some of you may have read my prior post(s) about graduate school, when I was considering the option and getting information on the realities of being a grad student. It was probably clear from my previous writing that I was skeptical about the whole process from the start. Turns out I was extremely, utterly correct about the strain of it, and completely wrong about its “intrinsic value” I assumed and ultimately relied on.
The short answer as to why I decided to leave is for my marriage, but the long answer is a serious one.
I began to realize that I had no idea why I was in the program I had committed to. I had no specific goal to accomplish, no connector between the degree and a career. One thing I was fairly sure of was that I didn’t want to become an academic cog, because I enjoy teaching too much. I came into the Journalism and Media Studies program with what I now understand was a vague idea that getting the Master’s meant I wouldn’t have to start from the absolute bottom in my future career search. I thought the program included active elements of practical education in broadcasting and media production. The reality was that it was a typical, thesis-driven research program which I felt mainly facilitated future academics. Ironically however, it wasn’t a welcome place for someone like me who was eager to do some “real” work after years of a boring, unchallenging undergrad education. My eagerness was apparently a “warning sign” that I didn’t really understand how the graduate program functions: years of coursework –just like as an undergraduate degree- with doing the research and work of a thesis as the dead last goal; not the result of two years of rigorous and quality work. It is a slog; not an intellectual exercise but a test of bureaucratic institutionalization. If you become fully socialized into the system, you will succeed. If your family, hobbies or non-academic life matters more even by one shred, you will have to walk away before the institution claims everything. How else would anyone submit to being toyed with by instructors who deliberately give more work than students can handle as a lesson in “time management”, or make students guess what information they will be tested on in a smattering of information overload, unless they were utterly, hopelessly institutionalized? When -in any other industry- would that be OK to do to anyone?
I spoke with both my advisor in my program and a high-ranker of the graduate college about my concerns and ultimately, my decision, and I was surprised and disappointed and their inability to articulate a real value to remaining in the program. The value is entirely self-applied; not intrinsic and inevitably better than not having the professional degree. Not that I am saying that having the degree doesn’t move you into a higher tax bracket, but this can be accomplished in the same way through experience. Professional degrees apparently lead to more opportunities, which is about as clear as mud. Which leads me to my final point…
Experience seems to be the real pathway to career success, not the endless pursuit of degrees and education as the institution suggests. For a career, experience is what is essential. And unless your program is ultra-specialized to get you this invaluable resource, such as the required hours of work necessary for a Master’s of Social Work, you are not going to get it in graduate school. Well actually, what you get a a huge amount of academic experience – a world of difference from work experience. If not starting a rock-bottom in a career is the reason you are continually in school working on a professional degree, just stop and face reality. Without experience, you will not be paid what you are worth nor will you be simply placed in an ideal career that you will fit into like a glove. There is no easy way out.
Now, I am engaged in the war that is job searching. The current work market is ruthless; a dearth of jobs with a surplus of workers translates to companies with the power to discriminate highly against candidates. Everyone wants experience, even for entry level, and they can wait for the preferred applicant in an economic climate like our present one.
In the end, I don’t regret experiencing graduate school for myself. I’ve learned a great deal about the reality of making your own opportunities. I have been relying on school to provide me with easier career and life experiences, which is a total crock. I realize now that we all have to carve out everything we want in life: career, marriages and love, happiness and your sanity. It isn’t easy and there are no cheat codes. You do it yourself, will full effort, or it doesn’t happen. A very valuable lesson…maybe one I should have learned long ago, but better sometime that never.
Of course, graduate school may be a real, viable option later in my life, who knows? If I get a good job I enjoy and find myself needing a
Master’s in order to keep growing professionally, that is just the clear-cut goal needed to make it through a sadistic, life-wrenching and unreasonably expensive program such as graduate school. However without a real, applicable goal that I can clearly see the benefit of, there was no way I was going to put myself or my marriage through one more day of that merciless, unreasonable institution (such as being assigned nine books to read in a semester and only being tested on two). Yeah…..no thanks. Of course, another little-known or perhaps unadvertised fact is that learning and education can continue, with or without the institution’s permission. Even publishing articles or writing can occur outside the university; it takes the same amount of rigor and peer-review, and is just as legitimate.
Well, I will keep you posted on the career search! In the meantime, I have begun weaving and knitting again (in your face, grad school)!
I am working on a scarf on my rigid heddle loom, using 5/2 Pearle Cotton, alternating floats over a weft of natural cream. I love the way it’s turning out! Also, I’m working with my favorite or favorite yarn, Madelinetosh on the Raha Scarf from Knitted Lace of Estonia, by Nancy Bush. Its going to be gorgeous after blocking. Check them out! The colorway on the Madelinetosh is called “Steam Age”; I found it in a LYS while in Denver, CO several months ago. What a gorgeous find! Honestly, the pictures do not do it justice.