Studies Junior (Anthropology/LAS Pre-Grad Intern)
A Meditation on My Experiences in the Pre-Graduate School Internship
We landed in Chicago after a long and tiresome flight from Austin. I was still sleepy even after we had exited the plane and would remain that way for the much of the weekend. We awoke bright and early Saturday morning, left the place where we had slept and made our way the University of Chicago. Along the way we stopped to pick up some coffee and then made our way by train, bus and foot to the conference. Amy, my graduate mentor, was presenting a paper at the 14th Annual "Eyes on the Mosaic" Graduate Student Conference. Her paper was over language and whiteness in the classroom and thus fit well into the general theme of the conference. Earlier in the semester she had mentioned the conference to me, and after receiving a travel grant from the program, I decided to accompany her to the event.
The conference was a one day affair and featured a host of papers from graduate students across the country. The topics varied but generally revolved around issues of oppression, race, gender, class and queer studies. While there were problems with some papers and presentations, most of the papers were quite good and gave me a lot to think about. Female sexual behavior in the age of aids, film critiques, a discussion of colonial pedagogy in the West Indies were just a few of the papers I heard and each one had a paradoxical effect-inspiring and discouraging me, asking me to truly think about whether graduate education was right for me.
Much of my time this semester has been spent working on a research project. With the help of my graduate mentor, the project has been both challenging and fun and has given me a good idea as to whether graduate education is right for me. I decided to use the class project in my critical ethnography class as the project for this course, since the overlap between the two is quite strong. Aside from being an investigation into critical anthropological inquiries and trends, the project itself was an ethnography of my own choosing that was dealt with in a critical manner. As my professor put it, "the end product for this class should be something you would feel comfortable sending to a graduate school as a writing sample, or a journal publication".
I took advantage of the Pre-Graduate School Internship program by talking a lot with my graduate student about my project and exchanging ideas about the direction, methodology and findings of the project. Amy, as well as my faculty advisor Dr. Allen, provided me with a host of literature and suggestions for the project and at times it felt as though I was doing graduate research in an undergraduate setting. I think one of the helpful things about the program that relates to my project was the way it required a lot of independent inquiry and work. It seems that much of graduate school is self-paced, and self-motivated, so I think doing this project and participating in the program prepared me fro graduate work on top of letting me know what graduate school was all about. My independent project, however, was not the only aspect of the program I found helpful. Meeting with Amy and talking with UT faculty served helpful in giving me an idea about graduate education that seemed much more realistic than I had in mind. Amy and I would meet about once or twice every two weeks and in our meetings we would often just talk about her work while allowing me to ask questions and probe aspects of her academic life. One important thing I learned from participating in this program is that graduate education is something people rarely set in stone and that many times one's initial aspirations about higher education change. For instance, Dr. Allen, my faculty advisor, explained that his entrance into graduate education came about after doing HIV/AIDS work with community groups and that acquiring his doctorate initially meant increasing his legitimacy to his cause. It was not until his emersion into academia that he began to see his purpose elsewhere and his career choice change. Amy explained a similar story, telling me about how she initially left undergraduate expectation with the desire to pursue a career in English, but eventually through a series of events found education studies to be of much more interest to her.
I think one of the key elements to the Pre-Graduate School Internship program that is useful is that fact you get to hear the voices of those involved in graduate school across different disciplines. Even though I think I am sure about the direction I want to take, the meeting where graduate students talked about their work and their experience was helpful in introducing me to the throng of different academic choices available.
Overall, a program like this needs to be a necessary staple at UT. So many students, I believe, have the desire to move along with their education but little ability to articulate the direction they want to take, or the steps they need to complete to make things happen. For me especially, the project that ran concurrently with the program was especially helpful in testing my creativity and giving me the skills I need to feel comfortable moving into graduate education and possible an academic career. Being the first generation in my family to attend college, this program not only taught me about what to expect from graduate school, but also reaffirmed my commitment to post-undergrad education as well. In the end, I leave the project feeling thankful for its existence and hopeful that it will continue to be around for other students at UT.