The best thing about being in a Master’s program is how much I’ve learned about myself and the system. I wish I’d known a lot of that going into the process, though. So, here I am, to share with you what I’ve uncovered in the past three semesters.
Grad school is a magical place where you’re surrounded by people who are just as passionate as you are about a given subject. It’s sort of like a political protest of some kind with a nearly 0% chance of being detained for blocking fire exits, and it usually costs more. I only have my own experiences to work from, so I won’t pretend I know how professional schools, science and engineering, or even the artistic programs work. But I do know what it’s like in my little college of Humanities and Social Sciences.
In my program, we spend a lot of time researching and working with theories. The rarely spoken message is that theories are like Rudolph’s nose, guiding us through the thick fog that is the real world. By learning theories, and developing our own, then we can create a mental model that will allow the world to be neatly broken up and compartmentalized. This is where we go to work with the top 10% in a given field, and learn from their experience and knowledge. They’re here to teach us and train us to be as great at what they do as they already are. Seriously, it’s magical.
Magic like that isn’t for everyone. I came here because I want to teach at a college level, and pretty much every college or university in the country requires at least Master’s level proficiency in order to do that. That means I’m not here because I thoroughly love research, or because I want to be surrounded by generally like-minded individuals who live and die for theories. I like getting my hands dirty, and talking to people, and wandering off to spend a day learning about things and then telling people about it. I’m really passionate about teaching and communication skills, so the teaching part of my job is great, but that’s not really what I’m supposed to be doing here. I’m supposed to be researching something in more depth than anyone has ever researched it before, and then writing a long, formal paper about it that other academics can read.
What if you don’t care about other academics? That’s the question that prompted me to start this post, and in order to work out the answer, I’m going to make a list of the pros and cons of grad school. Maybe by the end we’ll all have figured out whether or not it’s the right decision (for you AND for me)
You’re guaranteed to be surrounded by people who are as smart as you are.
You actually get one-on-one attention from professionals in the field who are getting paid decent money to give a damn about you.
Most universities are more liberal than the surrounding areas, especially in smaller towns.
You have access to a damn good library that subscribes to a broad spectrum of intellectual periodicals, and will find books for you with very few questions asked.
You can easily spend a full work week learning about almost anything you want.
Single people and professionals have a lot of networking opportunities.
You have more chances to get a higher paying job than if you didn’t have an advanced degree.
Teaching intro classes is pretty easy because you should know the material already.
If you need to skip a class for personal reasons, nobody seems to care.
Having a .edu email account and student ID opens up a whole world of discount opportunities.
The longer you’re in grad school, the more people will just assume you know what you’re talking about.
You get about four months off a year.
Nobody thinks you’re weird for starting a blog, even though you probably don’t have much to say.
English departments will usually let you work in the writing center, which is a great way to hone your skills without actually writing anything.
You’ll be surrounded by people at least as smart as you are, but you can’t hear the crippling insecurities in their heads.
You have to pay for the degree, and they cost a decent amount of money.
Graduate instructors earn almost no money. I think I’m halfway to the poverty line.
The school wants proof that you’re learning things before it will grant you a degree.
You’re expected to know how to do things without much preparation beforehand. Like learning to write a thesis as you’re writing it, for what is likely the only time you’ll use that specific format.
Most universities are more liberal than the surrounding areas, especially in small towns.
There is no “quitting time.”
You’re expected to socially and professionally network.
Advisors don’t always understand priorities other than “research.” Mine didn’t realize I worked in her department and had a family for the first eight months we knew each other.
You spend a lot of time reading, and not for funsies. Reading The Deathly Hallows in a couple of days is very different from reading Craftsman of the Cumberlands in the same length of time.
You don’t earn money during those long, academic vacations.