I know I love Medieval/Renaissance lit and want to devote my life studying it and women and women writers of the time period. I always knew from when I was young I wanted to be a writer. As I got older and further in college, I realized I wanted to write academically; I love picking apart and analyzing texts. I definitely wanted to pursue my college career further with grad school; I sold my soul to academia, academia is my life blood. I don't regret it, I love it with every fiber of my being despite the fact it causes me so much stress and headache and makes me physically ill during finals.
Ever since I decided to devote myself to the academy, it always seemed obvious and logical to become a college professor. I liked the idea of teaching; I wanted to share my knowledge and help fellow literature lovers and aspiring writers and academics. Plus, as Dr. Kopelson (one of my favorite professors who taught literary theory) said, it is a job that makes you write for a living. I wanted to write papers and lecture at prestigious Shakespeare conferences. This seemed the way to do it.
At the end of last semester and throughout the summer, I began having a not so mild but not dire career/identity crisis. Neither of my two med/ren classes were what I expected. Frankly, I thought they were boring and generic; nothing I couldn't have learned in a 300 level literature or history survey course. Granted this was due to the fact they were a mix of grad and undergrad students. I was taking 4 classes (12 hours) which is a lot in grad school; the workload was intense and overwhelming. I began to have doubts as to whether or not I wanted to continue with grad school all the way to PhD. I knew I definitely wanted a year off, but wanted to finish my Master's degree first.
Today, I had a meeting with my mentor, adviser, and idol, Dr. Rabin. He asked me if I'd given any thought to what I wanted to do after I finished my Master's. I told him, I'm thinking of taking a year off. He actually encouraged me to do so. He said taking a year off would not hurt or affect my chances of getting into a PhD program; I would just have to frame myself a little differently than if I was going straight from a Master's program. He also said, most groups PhD students are half and half--some who've taken a year off and others who haven't. He told me the only problem would be if one year turned into two then three...so and so forth.
Then he brought up other careers/grad programs to look into for Med/Ren: Museum Studies and Library Studies. He kind of alleviated some of my fears that I'd be stuck in a corner of the library cataloging books and babysitting middle schoolers and studying purely cataloging. He said, "It's not like you're going to study the Dewey Decimal system [in library science]. You specialize in a niche, work in the rare books collection, work with book preservation, and manuscripts. In fact, librarians work more with manuscripts than even I do. It's not like you're going to be working in the Louisville Free Public Library. You'll be in a university or a museum." He mentioned my background in theatre could be useful for museums like the Frazier which stages reenactments of the Middle Ages. I could be in charge of collections and setting up exhibits. Conveniently enough, University of South Carolina has a great museum studies program.
He told me to consider these options before settling on a PhD. A PhD is a great risk, especially nowadays. There's no sign of universities getting any more government funding soon. U of L recently only hired one new faculty member, a graduate from Vanderbilt. She was the only recent graduate from Vanderbilt to get a job, and it was only a temp teaching job. She would only teach for a year, without any guarantee of a job next year, and teaching lots of classes for a pittance. 25% of recent graduate students got a job and that was just any job, not necessarily teaching or english related. He told me to think, it's a risk that can pay off and or end badly. He said, "You have to think carefully, do I want to spend 6-7 years just trying to get a PhD, get out at 30-something, and will I look back and consider this time and money well spent when I don't have a job guarantee."
So now I'm seriously considering changing my life plan. I was so burnt out last semester. I realize I'm getting a little tired of the classroom. I want to do something else. I wish I'd got a teaching assistantship to see if I liked teaching as well as pay for my tuition and get insurance. As grad students, we're taught mainly content and just thrown into the classroom and expected to fly. Do I want to teach English 101 to stupid, jocks or deal with snobby honor students or people just in English to get some kind of degree? Mrs. Campbell (my senior AP English teacher) said teaching is casting pearl among swine. You just gotta hope for those few students who truly love learning and care about literature.
I'm really considering the museum and library studies programs. I'm leaning more towards museum right now because I'm thinking of the different items I'd be involved with besides manuscripts. I'd really love to incorporate my theatre background into my med/ren career. Dr. Rabin said, I would still be involved in the academic world, reading articles, writing and publishing articles of my own.
Museum and Library studies programs would also be shorter, about 2-3 years. Dr. Rabin said the best places to get jobs would be Chicago and Washington D.C. --both awesome cities with tons of museums and libraries and great universities with libraries. He recommended to apply in those areas for a library or museum assistantships if I decided to take a year off. He said they are perfect for Master's students looking to go further in Med/Ren studies.
Epically long post, I know. It helped me get my thoughts together though. Talking to Dustin helped too; he actually said, he thought I'd be happier in a museum setting rather than classroom. I know my mom would be happy if I chose library or museum studies; she thinks I'd have a much better chance at getting a job. I don't have to make a decision overnight. I must make one before the end of the semester though. If I want to go on to a PhD or other program next year, I need to start applying soon.
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