Classics Senior Meghan Murtha
I have known for the past 10 years that my calling has been to study and to teach Latin and Classics. Ever since I spent my first day in Latin class, I knew that this was it for me. In fact, I only came to The University of Texas because of its renowned Classics program. Everything was so certain. But for the past few years I have been struggling with the decision between teaching at a secondary school and going to graduate school to become a professor. In order to make a very large decision about the rest of my life, I wanted to know first-hand what the academic world entails. This internship has helped me to explore and understand academia and the discipline, dedication, and passion that is necessary for a successful career.
One of the most overwhelming things that I learned about graduate school through this internship is the incredibly substantial amount of work involved. My graduate mentor, Ann Morgan, said that she spends around 65 hours per week on her work. She knew how important it was for me to internalize this daunting task, so she instructed me to prepare for each seminar basically the same way that she did. Each assignment took me 6 hours on average. I must admit that I really struggled to get this work done in addition to my other coursework and my home life, but that was the lesson that Ann planned for me to learn. Graduate school is overwhelming to every new student, and the most important thing to understand about this is that being overwhelmed by the work is not wrong. In fact, Ann told me that certain first year courses in Classics are designed specifically with this in mind. Academia is a difficult road to travel; a professor must teach and research and write among many other things. My mentor professor is in the process of finishing a book and applying for tenure and she only sleeps for a few hours each night because she works so much. Graduate school must forge the student in order to prepare her for this future work, and the flame is intense.
Another important lesson that I learned about graduate school from Ann's tutelage is that being a graduate student (or a professor) also makes you an integral part of a community. Graduate students do not simply attend class and then leave campus, they work in the department all day everyday. They are colleagues of each other and the professors in that department. As mentioned previously, they work a great deal, so they spend a great deal of time together. They are friends as well as colleagues. When Ann wants to relax she generally either goes to a pub or party with her fellow Classics grad students or to a soccer or other intramural game where she plays on the Classics team. Dr. Ebbeler spent her Thanksgiving with several other professors from the department. When one enters the world of academia, nearly every person that she will have routine contact with will be in her field: her professors, mentors, bosses, classmates, and students. Choosing this profession requires loving one's chosen discipline so much that she is willing not only to spend 60 hours per week or more working in it (talking about it, learning about it, teaching about it), but also willing to spend free time talking (and sometimes complaining about) that discipline. This means no less than dedicating one's life to this career.
Another thing that surprised me (although it probably should not have) is the extent to which working as a graduate student or a professor is a "people business." As a graduate student, one must work with many different professors with different personalities and teaching styles. What one may learn from a seminar can vary greatly with the style of the professor, and even more so with the dynamic of the other graduate students taking the class. One may also work closely with other researchers all over the world in one's own field or related fields. Even reading ancient authors or modern commentators forces us to work with others, although we may have no real contact with them. Obviously, as part of the teaching aspect of the field, one must work well with students of varying levels and learning styles. We are never in a vacuum. To me, this discovery is a great comfort, since working that closely with so many people means that I can have the chance to truly affect the lives of others.
Succeeding in graduate school and as a professor takes dedication, discipline, and passion. Of course, I knew that before my experiences with this program, but I have learned a great deal about just how much of these qualities is necessary. I know now that graduate school is sink or swim, and around half sink. But I think that really understanding the work load and the system is half of the battle. If I had not known going in that I should be overwhelmed, I probably would be one of the sinkers. I cannot emphasize this enough, knowledge truly is power and this knowledge can give me the courage I need to persevere. However, I do not believe that learning about these intimidating requirements is the most important issue in my discernment about graduate school. I have concluded that truly understanding myself, knowing that these goals and all of the wonderful rewards associated with them are important enough to me that I can patiently and profoundly endure, is the most imperative concern. This internship has helped me to recognize that graduate school can be the right path for me, it can help me to explore my passions and share them with others, and to accomplish my aspirations, as long as I am true to those goals and who I want to be.