Friday, June 2, 2006

More Musings on Graduate School

If there’s one thing my current job has taught me, it’s that I really do want to go back to grad school. And it’s not because school is fun and full-time work sucks, but rather that school made me happy and the corporate world makes me unhappy. I’ve had the same revelation that Brinestone had when she realized that she wasn’t cut out to be a teacher: even if I were doing really well at my job, I don’t think I’d enjoy it.

I faced this problem every summer when school ended and my job went to full-time. I enjoy editing and I do very well at it, but editing for forty hours a week makes me want to stab my eyes out sometimes. I realize that work isn’t supposed to be fun, but I think it should still be fulfilling in some way; however, even during those periods of full-time work when I’ve enjoyed my work the most, I’ve felt like a large part of my brain was atrophying.

You see, even though I find a certain amount of pleasure in storing half of The Chicago Manual of Style in my head and pulling it out at will, I find a lot more pleasure in more scholarly or creative pursuits. I used to think it was weird and nerdy when my older brother would come home from his computer tech support job and do calculus to unwind. Then I found myself coming home from my editing job and reading up on Indo-European linguistics to unwind, and suddenly it seemed less weird and nerdy than it had before.

So I think I’ve mostly made up my mind. Now I just need to figure out (1) where I want to go, (2) what exactly I want to pursue, (3) whether I want to get a certificate in something like scholarly publishing just in case I want to go back into editing after all, and (4) how on earth I’m going to pay for the whole ordeal.

Advice is welcome.

Editing, Graduate School 13 Replies to “More Musings on Graduate School”
Jonathon Owen


13 thoughts on “More Musings on Graduate School

    Author’s gravatar

    Forgive me for splitting hairs, but I’m not quite sure I understand how “school is fun and full-time work sucks” is different from “school makes me happy and the corporate world makes me unhappy.” I mean, the words are different, but to me they mean essentially the same thing. What do they mean to you?

    Author’s gravatar

    Jon Boy –

    (1) Depends on (2)
    (2) Library Science!*
    (3) I have no idea.
    (4) Student loans!

    *Actually, you should probably wait for me to graduate first, just in case it turns out there are no jobs.

    Author’s gravatar

    Brinestone: I see a big distinction between fun and happiness. And basically, I think I could be doing better things with my brain than editing.

    Katya: Well, I’m mostly decided on linguistics, but I’m not sure what I want my focus to be. I’m most interested in historical linguistics, sociolinguistics, phonology, and English linguistics.

    Author’s gravatar

    To me, the first statement is general, indicating that, on the whole, school is fun and work sucks. The second statement deals with Jon Boy specifically, even if it uses words with similar meanings.

    Jon Boy:
    I’m about 6 months past the point you’re at now. Only for me, the choice isn’t just between grad school and work. I’m also considering seeing if I can’t find another career I enjoy more. Of course, I have the advantage of not having a family to support while I play musical careers.

    Author’s gravatar

    Yeah, I should have figured you would go for linguistics. But I’m having so much fun in librarian school that I feel it a moral duty to recommend it to everyone else. (And Master Fob followed suit, anyway.)

    Author’s gravatar

    What do you want to do with your degree in linguistics? Going back to school will be fun, but eventually you’ll graduate from that program as well. What do you want to do as your career?

    Author’s gravatar

    If I do go back to school for a degree in linguistics, it will be with the goal of teaching and researching. However, since I wouldn’t be starting before fall 2007, I’ve got time to think things over and decide if that’s what I really want. Maybe sometime in the next year I’ll get a good editing job and decide to just make a career out of that after all.

    Author’s gravatar

    If you go to grad school with the goal of working in academia, the school you attend matters. 80% of tenure-track professorship go to graduates of the top 25 schools.

    In order to decide if that’s what you want, I’d talk to professors who currently have that job, find out a little bit about the field, find out who you want to work with, and apply to the best schools you can possibly get into, emphasizing in your admittance essay your desire to work with a particular professor.

    Author’s gravatar

    I’ve been thinking about this, because I’ve been thinking about going back to school as well. If you think you might want to go to graduate school to pursue a career in academia, I would do the two following things immediately:

    1. Study for and take the GRE as soon as possible, so that you can retake if you think you could do better.

    2. Get some scholarly journals from the library for whatever field you might like to pursue. If you do have an academic career, a big part of your life will be writing for these scholarly journals. Do you enjoy them? Do you have ideas for lines of study and research? Do you fall asleep at the first page? Do you think the field matters? A PhD is a lot of work, and I think it’s essential to truly believe that what you are working on/for matters, because the committment required to be successful at it.

    The last is based on experience – I thought about doing a degree in rhetoric, and tested it out by taking an introductory class. Honestly, if I’d spent a weekend in the library studying, I could have found out much more quickly that while I liked the concepts, I wasn’t interested in committing to the field.

    Author’s gravatar

    Sorry – not spamming, I promise. To go to school in Fall of 2007, you’ll need to apply by this January. You’ll need three letters of reccomendation and time to gather materials and write an essay for each place you apply to, so if you are going to apply, you really need to start the process by this September, to give yourself the best chance.

    When I applied, I was distracted by other things and dind’t get it together fast enough, so despite great GRE scores, I didn’t get into half the places. Matt kind of put off the application process after undergrad as well, and didn’t get into as many places as he’d hoped. He was much more careful for his PhD, and his acceptance rate was much better, and for more prestigious schools.

    Author’s gravatar

    Thanks, Katie. That’s all very good advice. I had already figured that I should talk to some professors and find out more about good programs and all that, but it’s good to have a more concrete idea about how to get started on everything.

    Author’s gravatar

    Katie’s advice is solid.

    You also might want to get the names of 2-3 (or 4 or 5)students that your professors know who got into solid doctoral programs in the fields that you are interested in. Granted the view from PhD students who haven’t yet completed their work and/or don’t yet have a job lined up can be incredibly warped and bitter, but you’re going to have to live with that warped and bitter for 6-10 years.

    You should also have someone you really, really trust do a thoroughly honest evaluation of your grades, resume, skills, writing, teaching ability, etc. I’m sure you would do just fine in a grad program, and certainly, what you do once you get there is the biggest factor, but….

    You owe it to yourself to find out how hard the road is going to be for you. Academic jobs are incredibly difficult to get as you know.

    Finally, how much do you enjoy teaching? What level of student are you willing to teach? Where in the country are you willing to live?

    Professionally speaking, if you can answer fairly positively to those three questions, I’d suggest you seriously consider not doing pure linguistics, but rather go for one of the top programs (Stanford, Cal, Univ. of Iowa — and a host of others) in English language (i.e. composition) and do an emphasis on that meshes somewhat with your linguistic interest (rehtoric — this site doesn’t seem to have the top top programs, but it’s a start — )

    Another issue to consider is not just where you can get in, but also where your interests and philosophy/ethos will mesh well with the faculty and other grad students. Problems in this area is probably the number one issue that arises for grad students and causes them to be unhappy and even drop out. [Well money and family issues are also a major consideration, but those can generally be more easily overcome].

    Also see:

    Author’s gravatar

    I second Katya’s motion.

    Also, master’s degrees in the UK only take one year to complete (12 months). The application process is free and they don’t need GRE scores. If you go outside of London (or anywhere in the north half of the country) it’s less expensive than in London or the South. Just a thought!

    Pros: Cheaper than paying out-of-state tuition in the states.
    You’re only out of a job for one year instead of two, so that’s one more year of salary you’ll be making.
    Free healthcare.
    You get to live in England.
    In my experience the professors have all been really helpful and great to work with–they have a good system here.

    Cons: No real teaching assistantship opportunities if you’re into that.
    It’s more expensive feeding 3 people in England than feeding just 1.

    You might consider Canada as well–the US dollar is stronger, so the degree costs less overall.

Comments are closed.