Graduate School Questions

Unfortunately it appears I’m now on a month-to-month cycle of posting here, and I do not like that, but the beast that is graduate school has seemingly dictated such a rhythm must now exist. Or should it? I can’t tell if this matter of being busy is something I’ve construed or if it’s just the way graduate study naturally is. Either way, I’ve come to the conclusion that if I’m going to do something aside from class, work, and studying (like writing this post right now), it’ll have to occur because of a conscious decision to do so, not because it will just naturally happen.

For example, I’ve been working on a letter to send to two of my favorite people in the world. For three weeks I’ve been writing this letter (Captain and DiMy, it’s coming eventually, I promise). But I think that’s a good representative example: I keep thinking that eventually a small window of time will pop up to where I can get a few pages in, but here the modus operandi is that as soon as you finish one task they will heap another on you. I do not say that bitterly. It’s just what takes place.

And so that necessitates conscious decisions as to what I will make time for. Frustrating as that may be, I think I’m learning a good life lesson now because even if I do become a professor one day and even if I do find that being a professor is less demanding than being a student, I will still be bombarded with the busy-ness of activities and will have to purposely make time for things that otherwise wouldn’t merit the label of “essential” being placed upon them.

This is a good lesson to learn because there are several things I’ve been on the watch for with graduate school. Here is a short list, but one that is significant nonetheless in my mind:

If a career as a professor means choosing between creative writing and academic writing, which one will I choose? I freely proclaim that my first love is writing stories. This has been the case ever since I was six, or seven, or eight, or however many years old I was with my story Jon the Messy Boy. That story was awful, but I like to think I’ve progressed a bit in my craft. I applied to two MFA in Creative Writing programs (Iowa and Vanderbilt), but didn’t get in, which isn’t a big deal because those were shots-for-the-moon anyway. But I do still want to find time to work on my creative fiction projects. This question is not to say I don’t enjoy what I’m doing right now. I do. Very much so. I might even go as far as to say I love it. But if I begin to realize that professorial work would necessitate focus being taken away from creative pursuits, I’m going to have a difficult decision to make. And it’s one I can’t make at the moment and won’t really have to make until a year from now when I’m thinking about taking the GRE Subject Test and applying to doctoral programs. But it is in the back of my mind anyway.

Does a career as a professor leave time—quality time—for a family? This is not to say I want a job that is stress-free and only thirty hours a week (although, offer me one of those jobs, and if it pays well enough I’ll probably take it). I realize any career will be demanding of one’s time, difficult, and strenuous, and that is the joy of work sometimes (assuming you’re doing what you love). But I am watching my superiors here like a fly on the wall and have even begun to ask some of them how they feel like their career choice jives with family life. Some have said it’s difficult; some have said it’s not so bad. Obviously it will be different for each individual, so as I continue to watch and observe over the next year or so I will have to try and answer that question for only myself. And if my conclusion is that, given my workaholic tendencies, I cannot do well by my family if I am also a professor, then there is no way I’m going on to get a doctorate. Not going to happen. I cherish the fact (and corresponding memories) of both my parents being present in my life when I was young. I owe that much to my own kids and wife should I be in such a familial role one day.

Will a career in literature kill my love of literature? This may seem insignificant, but it’s not because I can’t tell you how depressing it is to be sitting on my couch while doing homework and looking across my tiny apartment living room only to see all the books on my shelf I wish I could be reading rather than whatever other book is in my lap at the moment. And yesterday, while talking to a few professors, they noted how once you become a professor it is hard to find time to read what you want to read since you always have to read the texts for your classes. Granted, one could strike a fine balance at some point, but there’s no denying this point: Time spent reading for pleasure takes a significant nosedive. Is that worth it? We’ll see. I have another year and a half of these unread books staring at me from across the room. If that boils over into insanity by then, then I’ll know a doctorate is not for me. But if I become okay with it, then I guess I should keep going.

Am I even a good teacher? Myriad individuals in the past two and a half years have told me they think I have that gift. Only a handful of them, though, have actually seen me in some sort of teaching capacity. That doesn’t mean the ones who haven’t seen me teach are misinformed; it could be the Holy Spirit’s naming gifts into existence—I’m open to that. But nice words of encouragement aside, I have to convince myself that teaching is something I’m good at. Thankfully my assistantship will allow me to teach next year, so I’ll find out real quickly if 1) I’m good or bad at it and 2) if I love it or hate it. If I’m good at it and love it, then perhaps enduring the suffering of doctoral study is worth it. If I’m bad at it but love it, then I shouldn’t be a teacher, for there’s nothing worse for the education system than people in classroom who have disillusioned themselves into thinking they can teach when, in reality, they have no gift whatsoever in that realm. If I’m bad at it and hate it, then there’s no problem in being content with just a Masters. But if I’m good at it but hate it . . . well, then that’s awkward. But I would still probably not go on and get a doctorate because why do what you hate? I did well at science in high school and college, but I hated it, so that is why I’m not in medical school (among many reasons).

An obvious theme in all of these questions is how I can’t answer any of them right now. It will be another year before any conclusive prognoses can be established. But in the meantime, I am gathering evidence for the future jury on myself that consists of myself. While I’m tempted to bail given the level of insanity that’s been rising this week at midterms, I will be patient and make decisions when my head is clearer. That’s not to say graduate school has been bad so far. In fact, I’m doing well as far as I can tell, and God continues to give me a lot of favor and grace here. As of right now, I’m handling the challenge. Whether or not I want this challenge to be my career?—that’s another issue, one I will deal with later.

And that makes this post come full-circle. There is an appropriate time to approach all things, and some will only get done when you consciously devote attention to them. So rather than try to answer those future questions, I’m going to go finish (or continue writing) that letter.

Much love.

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