Anthropology Senior Brianne Cryer
Constructing a Path to Graduate School
The Intellectual Entrepreneurship was instrumental in clarifying my reasons for going into higher education, assisting in my decisions of what and where I want to study, and defining the necessary course for accomplishing my ambitions. I knew that I wanted to go to graduate school before starting this internship, but it seemed unreachable because the path was ambiguous. The work I am doing with my graduate student mentor has helped this goal become reachable as she provides guidance in my application process and the defining of my interests. Her presence has been a significant resource that I did not have before the internship. I have written various statements of intent and explored different methods of writing them through advice from my mentor and examples that I have read at the Undergraduate Writing Center. I have also narrowed down the graduate programs I will apply for and the professors I would like to work with by doing research about what they study. It took a lot of time to decide what professors would be willing and able to guide me in my future research. Besides working on the concrete application process with my graduate mentor, I also did literary and ethnographic research with my professor mentor on feminist interpretations of gender and performance, and issues of identity and behavior. The most exciting part was the participant observation and interviewing in the field with two homosexual females. It was remarkable to see how my ethnographic work fit in with and could possibly expand the literary research I was and am still participating in. This made me excited about spending more time in the future doing research and ethnographic studies.
I learned a lot through this experience, but one of the principal revelations I had was that graduate school is an all-consuming lifestyle that requires extreme amounts of dedication. One must really enjoy their work in order to have the stamina to succeed. It was also paradoxically surprising that many people do accomplish other things while in graduate school, and this says to me that graduate school is what you make it. It just depends on how long you are willing to stay in school and what else may be important to you. Something very helpful that I learned was the importance of establishing good relationships with people who are doing similar research and with your professors in order to develop your interests and ideas and to get recommendation letters. Before this internship, I was intimidated by professors and avoided talking with them, but I learned that they are invaluable resources for ideas, especially because they belong to the academic system I am striving to join, and are in fact, not as scary as they seem. Because I want to get my doctorate in anthropology and do research with an institute which will probably be a university, I was concerned about whether I would enjoy the teaching aspect. Through talking with professors and TAs I found that many had this concern, but now they absolutely enjoy teaching. This helped to soothe my concerns about a degree in a field where academia is the prevalent job provider. I have also decided to not go straight into graduate school after completing my undergraduate education, but to take at least a year off to have time to work on applications while gaining experience in my field. This will also give me more time to prepare my thesis I am preparing as a writing sample and to study for the GRE. My decision to take time off was solidified after hearing about other graduate student's experiences through the internship. The term "burn out" was commonly used when talking about those who had gone directly into higher education, using it to state that someone had burnt out, causing them to drop out of school or referring to the increased likelihood that someone without a break from school would burn out before finishing. As I observe my fellow students who are applying right now, I am thankful that I chose to take time off. My graduate mentor also provided helpful ideas about research methods. She recommended a helpful computer program called EndNote that I use currently. I had no idea a program like this existed before she mentioned it to me. The readings she recommended have also been pertinent in my research because she has studied some of the same things I am studying now. The intern meeting about money for graduate school was also an eye opener. There is definitely more money out there than I originally thought and I did not know about the scholarship library or that it is accessible to everyone. That is such an awesome place!
The readings provided on Blackboard also dispelled some of my nave notions about graduate school. I was disappointed to hear that further education is not completely about passionately pursuing knowledge of personal interest, but it consists largely of outside influences such as having to work for others, being pushed to publish, and perhaps spending time on easily accomplished problems at the expense of beneficial, yet complicated questions. With these items in mind, graduate school is a misleading concept for many and this internship has caused me to question whether graduate school is the best option for me. It has also forced me to consider my reasons for pursuing graduate school. I definitely have a desire for career advancement and feel that finding a fulfilling job with only an anthropology undergraduate degree will be almost impossible. I also enjoy research and learning, and despite all the negative things I have heard about graduate school, like uncertain employment conditions and poverty-level wages, still feel that I'm applying for the right reasons. Another item I had only thought briefly about before was the community of the school's I am applying to. Until recently, I had figured that if it was a great school, the community would also be agreeable or that the community would not be as much of a concern. I have reevaluated this concern and decided that the opportunities and places present and the people's attitudes toward their education and other things will affect me tremendously and should be part of my deciding factors.
Almost all of the activities I am currently participating in are geared toward getting into graduate school. This is the common thread. It is the reason I am treasurer of the University of Texas Anthropological society and a member of the Lambda Alpha Honors Society. It is why I attend lecture series and conferences and it is why I am participating in this internship. Graduate school is also the reason I am writing an undergraduate thesis. It is to help my application for graduate school and to define my research interests in gender and performance. The research involved is a good preparation for graduate school and I feel like I am getting a head start in my further education. My participation in swing dance lessons and activities is not for the purpose of graduate school, but it does allow for conversation with people who are currently in or have been to graduate school and it provides volunteer opportunities which I can include in my application. Plus, while in graduate school, it will be a great way to meet and form friendships with people who have similar interests outside of my studies. This was emphasized as something important to have while in graduate school. I have learned many imperative details about graduate school and about myself through this internship and am thankful for the opportunity.