Classical Archaeology Pre-Grad Intern Katelin McCullough
I enrolled as an IE Pre-Graduate Intern so that I might gain some insight into what graduate school entails and if it is the right goal for me to pursue. As an undergraduate in Classical Archaeology I have always known that in order to turn this major into a career a PhD was necessary. However, as an undergrad whose parents never achieved their bachelor degrees much less their PhDs, I was terrified that I would be inadequate for the task and not be able to succeed or even be accepted into a program. This internship has helped to solidify an idea of what graduate school is actually like and has made me more aware of what I have to accomplish as a student in my junior year so that I will be prepared for the application process next year and how to succeed in a program afterwards. This internship has changed the way in which I look at graduate school as an option for my future. I have become more aware of what graduate programs are looking for in applicants, something of what it takes to thrive while in graduate school, and some of the options available in the academic and professional world.
Classical Archaeology is a field in which the demand for new professionals is low and most graduate programs have very limited openings. This stiff competition means that getting into the best programs requires possessing an impeccable resume. My mentor and some of the professors that I talked to during this internship stressed the importance of having a great writing sample and some research experience. My mentor and I decided that this semester would be used as time to focus my interests so that I could enroll in the research portion for an honors thesis next semester. I knew that I really wanted to write an undergraduate thesis, but I had too many ideas and no way in which to pick just one. During this semester, my mentor assigned me several readings which helped me to realize that I would like to focus my attention on underrepresented social classes in art and architecture of the Classical world.
In addition to this preparation, I was assigned readings for the graduate seminars which I attended with my mentor. These readings helped me to realize that graduate course material was not completely incomprehensible although it was difficult. This translated over into the seminars themselves where the discussions were at a very high level, but the professors were extremely interested in what they were teaching and the students had opportunities to present topics and research that they found exciting.
Throughout this semester, I learned that part of thriving as a graduate student is learning to balance research, teaching classes either as a TA or as an AI, attending and preparing for graduate seminars, interacting with visiting professors, and going to departmental talks. This ability to manage time correctly is something that I also practiced during this internship. Along with having readings and attending seminars, I also spent time at many of the talks offered this semester. Listening to professors from within the UT Classics Department and from around to world present their passions to a larger audience and getting to learn about different topics from the people who know the most about them was one of the most rewarding experiences and the most inspiring. These talks have motivated me more than ever to pursue graduate school for the opportunity to share my own research.
Another part of being a graduate student that I was interested in was having my own class (hopefully as a Classical language instructor) such as the one my graduate student mentor teaches. I was able to sit in her class a few times during the semester and watch how she progressed as a teacher: first struggling to get everyone used to new material and learning a language and then becoming more comfortable interacting with her students and more confident in her ability to relay material accurately and memorably. This experience of teaching before actually becoming a professor or a lecturer seems invaluable and I would love to have the opportunity to share a language (or anything about Classics or archaeology) with other people.
The interviews that I was prompted to perform through this internship with some of the successful professors in this field challenged me to work outside my comfort zone in talking and asking questions of people I didn't know very well. However, they were very easy to talk to and one of them gave me a little bit of wisdom that while it might be common sense, I had never heard anyone say it before: if you do not like graduate school or the academic world, you can always quit and leave it and go get a "real" job, but if you think you have a shot at making it and you really want it, go for it. This advice has calmed some of the fears I held about going to graduate school and perhaps later regretting it.
I feel as though graduate school is the best choice for me as I would love to get my PhD and be able to continue in the academic world as a professor and to perform research in archaeology, both at digs in the field and in compiling research in a lab. Although becoming a professor would be the ultimate goal, by talking to other people in the Classics department at UT I have learned that I have other options such as working in a museum. I feel that I got everything I wanted to receive out of this experience and I am thankful that there were so many people who were willing to talk to me about my hopes, fears, and expectations for graduate school. This was a very motivating step in planning for graduate school and the future after that. I know from sitting in on seminars and talks that I can handle the content and I am more prepared to pursue the research part of this career during the spring for my honors thesis now that I have found a topic I wish to investigate. I am now much more confident that the path I have been stumbling along is the right one for me and plan to continue with Classical Archaeology at my second field school this summer.