Growing Up 101

Confession: I am a young’un. It just became legal for me to buy alcohol four months ago. I became a first-time car owner at the beginning of this month (it may take years before I can successfully parallel park). The apartment that I live in is the first real lease I’ve ever signed. I’ve never gotten a real monthly paycheck and I’ve never paid taxes. I have just recently mastered getting gas and buying groceries alone (which isn’t quite the same as walking with your roommates into Westwood to get some bread and milk). This is my first time living completely on my own. And I am so so far away from home. In terms of work and life experience, I am a baby compared to the actual adults in the program, many of whom have taught before and several of whom are married. Oddly enough, I’m not very worried about the school aspect of things. I just don’t feel up-to-speed on how to be a grown-up.

Hopefully I’ll get the hang of things soon enough, but whenever I feel young and intimidated, I plan to remind myself of this quote:

“I began by acting like the person I wanted to be, and eventually I became that person.” — Cary Grant

I may be one of the youngest kids in the incoming class, but I’m going to prove that I can run with the big dogs. 🙂

Advertisements

Don’t Blink or You’ll Miss It

Life for the graduating senior really moves way too fast. The last time I posted, I was happily savoring my second academic conference and dreaming about the pleasures of research. Unfortunately, literally the day after the conference, my life became consumed by graduate school applications. From ordering GRE scores to mailing two dozen transcripts to chasing down fee waivers, my days quickly became filled with frantic runs to the post office and calls to departments about tedious procedural issues. Not to mention personal statements and writing samples to edit and personalize for each program. Every school has different requirements and little details like “Do you send it to the Graduate Division or the department?” or “Official or unofficial transcript? (And all colleges attended or just your degree-granting institution?)” will slowly start to drive you insane. I think I really underestimated how stressful it would be to apply to twelve PhD programs while still taking 17 units worth of classes and working on a senior thesis. It definitely didn’t help that my first and second round of deadlines were during and immediately after finals. For the massive number of schools with a December 15 deadline (Tuesday after finals week), I basically ended up ordering pizza, making ramen, and working on applications around the clock. While I made all my deadlines and do feel like I represented myself very well, I would have appreciated having a bit more time (and being less stressed out).

So I guess my most important advice to future applicants who aren’t taking a gap year is this: start early and allocate as much time for applications as you would a core class. Take your GRE and subject test early – preferably during your junior year. Research and finalize your program choices over summer. During Fall quarter, take a light course load and ease off the extracurriculars. Of course there are a lot of other things you should do to increase your chances of getting into a program, but the bottom line is that if you don’t take the time to present yourself in the best light, then all the work you’ve done to make yourself competitive will be completely useless.

However, even though application season was like a hellish nightmare, there were also moments when the process really made me appreciate why I wanted to go to graduate school in the first place. While researching faculty interests, I quickly found myself immersed in the research of those professors whose articles I had cited and whom I greatly admired. In reading their works, you indirectly engage with the greatest minds in your specialty and you desperately hope to one day get the opportunity to learn anything and everything from them. At some point in the application process, it dawns on you that this time next year, you might be studying under the likes of Stephen Greenblatt, Jeffrey Knapp, or David Scott Kastan. And it’s absolutely thrilling.

Since the new year, I’ve given myself a few weeks to wind down, but recently things are picking up again. I’m going over the unit cap again with 22 units and 5 classes this quarter so there really isn’t that much room to slack off. My senior thesis (40-60 pgs!) is due in March (my tentative draft deadline though is February 15) so I think I’ll be focusing mostly on that for the next few weeks. I also just got a research assistant position under my Shakespeare professor this week AND I still have two midterms, a few quizzes, two papers, and three finals left in the next six weeks so it will be a hard run to the finish.

The view on the other side of this quarter is going to be great though. I will be presenting at the Sigma Tau Delta International Convention in St. Louis in March the day after my last final and at the University of Montana, Missoula in April for the National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR). By then, I’ll have heard back from all my schools and the annual Westwind/Aleph Conference in May will be a nice cap to my senior year. Then graduation!

In four months and one week, my “college years” will be over and the days of just pretending to be grown up will be gone. Am I ready to be a grad student, live alone in a new town, and fend for myself? Am I ready to be a grown up? Just thinking about it takes my breath away.

Mental Pep Talk

Exciting news! I finally turned in my letter of recommendation packets on Monday! Which means I can stop fiddling around with my list of schools. I had a list of about 15 places that I liked, but finally narrowed it down to 12, which is the same number of schools I applied to for college (lucky number?). See if you recognize any of these places:

Surprisingly, applying for grad school has actually made me feel more confident about my qualifications for each program. I can be a bit of a perfectionist (especially about English) and I tend to beat myself up and generally have a bad day if I oversleep for class or don’t finish annotating the reading. There have been many many moments in my undergraduate career where I’ve felt like I wasn’t good enough for graduate school. But looking at the responses I’ve gotten over my statement of purpose and CV, I think I’m starting to realise that no one is harder on me than myself and that I need to be more confident about my abilities. If I work really hard, I can get into a top tier PhD program and the only thing stopping me is that silly part of me that says that I’m not good enough.

However, I also know that being a grad student means more responsibility, maturity, and accountability. It means doing what you promise to do and taking initiative to do even more. It means being excellent and engaging even on your off-days. Especially in a new city, it means being independent, taking care of yourself, and learning to endure a lot of lonely nights with a cup of tea and a book. But I firmly believe that life will force you to grow up and take responsibility. A lot of these things are just part of becoming an adult and I will be ready to cross that bridge when I come to it.