English Literature Pre-Grad intern Annie Paige
The Culture, Cost, and Reward of Graduate Study
My participation in the Intellectual Entrepreneurship internship gave me a small taste of what graduate school would be like. I undertook the I.E. internship in the discipline of English literature (though my mentor was from the Comparative Literature program, we focused my work on English literature specifically). My pre-graduate internship took two main forms as I both explored by own research interests, which included reading and discussing texts with my mentor, and prepared for graduate school by completing the application process and investigating the life of my mentor. My experience in this program has simultaneously encouraged my interest in literary criticism as well as terrifying me at the possibility of graduate study.
Coming into the internship, my research interests focused on women's sexuality in 20th century literature. This was a fairly broad topic and through my participation in this internship, I was able to narrow my interest down further to study how the negotiation of women's sexuality is affected by religious discourses and Christian ideologies which teach the importance of purity and virtue. At the beginning of the semester, my internship was structured like a conference course-my mentor created a list of texts that responded to my interests, I read these works, and then met with my mentor to discuss them. I was thankful for this phase of the internship because it gave me the opportunity to perform literary analysis and then engage in lengthy discussions with my mentor over my analysis. This phase also provided me with exposure to texts I had yet been familiar with me and gave me the opportunity to learn from my mentor's expertise.
In the second phase of my internship, after I had more fully realized my specific research interests, I expressed a desire to focus on texts (by Jean Rhys, specifically) that I thought matched my research interests more closely. I'd had exposure to Rhys earlier in my academic career and I was interested in how she, as an early 20th century writer, negotiated women's sexuality. I sought out a few of her novels, read them, and analyzed them. I was amazed to see how fervently her texts reflected the power of religious discourses to teach women to feel sexual shame. I then coupled my research on Rhys with my reading of a long Mina Loy poem that I had been exposed to in one of my other courses. In reading these texts in conversation with one another, I was able to see how these early 20th century texts resisted the hegemonic message that a woman's worth is found in her purity and virginity. I culminated my semester's worth of study and my research findings in a final, scholarly-length article.
I enjoyed this opportunity to proactively guide my own research, as opposed to following the direction of my professors or my mentor. In my undergraduate courses, my own individual research has always come secondary to the focus of the class. This make sense, of course. It wouldn't make much sense to study Christian ideologies in a course on race and ethnicity. For example. While English courses are unique for the potential they give for independent study (essay topics are usually broad, for example), this small degree of freedom is nothing compared to the freedom I was given in my pre-graduate internship. I was excited for the small taste of graduate school freedom that this internship gave me. I enjoyed being able to isolate my academic interests and pursue them with complete autonomy. I am excited about the possibility of continuing this type of independent investigation as a graduate student.
In addition to my research pursuits, I also focused on preparing for graduate school through both the application process and my exposure to the culture of graduate school. Working on my applications has been a daunting experience. It was difficult even to figure out which schools I wanted to apply to as I tried to narrow down my list from every possible English Ph.D. program to a reasonable list of options. I ultimately ended up with a list of around 10 options and then went through the laborious application process-the general GRE, the subject test GRE, securing letters of recommendation, writing my personal statement, cultivating my curriculum vitae and so on. This process resulted in a fairly anxious semester as I almost constantly found myself worrying about getting everything done and worrying about getting accepted to any programs.
Throughout the application process, I've often had to remind myself that my worth as a person is not found in my success in academia. I think this is one of the most important lessons that I've taken away from my internship. While I love academia and wish to continue studying in graduate school, I also know that my ultimate fulfillment and happiness cannot be found in my own success. This process taught me to remove myself from my academic goals in a healthy way; while I will still work hard and focus, I also know that my academic performance is not my identity.
I've spoken about how the internship has encouraged my fervor for graduate study, but my exposure to the culture of graduate school has also scared me a bit. My mentor, Maryam Shariati, is a smart, driven, and focused Comparative Literature Ph.D. candidate. I enjoyed having her as my mentor, but I also saw firsthand how busy and stressed Maryam was. Maryam would often have to reschedule our appointments or wasn't able to meet due to her hectic schedule, which I completely understood because I knew how busy she was. Maryam would often come to our meetings in a whirlwind of busyness and pressure. She was working on her dissertation proposal and she told me how difficult it was, even to get the members of her committee to find a time they were all available. She seemed constantly stressed and I was amazed how she balanced graduate school with her marriage and personal life. Maryam's continued dedication was a reminder of the diligence that graduate study requires. If she had been less passionate about her research, I doubt that she would have been able to force herself to persevere in her studies. Maryam's dedication in the face of a terrifying busyness has reminded me that I wish to also care deeply enough about my own academic interests to pursue my research, despite the high costs of graduate school.
Ultimately, my experience in the Intellectual Entrepreneurship program has been edifying and illuminating. I've enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the culture, cost, and reward of graduate school. This course has reminded me of my deep love for learning and my thirst for knowledge. I love reading texts, I love analyzing literature, I love writing my thoughts down in a way that no one has ever quite articulated in the same way before. The IE program offered me an inside glance at graduate scholarship and I am hopeful to continue my research in an English graduate program.