English Sophomore Sarah Walker
Me, IE, and Graduate-Level English
When I was younger, I had always thought that graduate school was a place for socially awkward, stuffy intellectuals who were afraid of having "real" jobs. My mental image of a graduate student was a disheveled, scarf-wearing, bespectacled book-worm who liked to spend A LOT of time alone. As I grew in stature and wisdom, I began to change my opinions of graduate work. Indeed, it eventually seemed like the only logical post-undergrad choice was continued study. After all, if you really love a subject, you should be a Doctor of it. When I got to college, I was only able to watch graduate work from a distance, finding undergraduate life, understandably, more accessible. However, I watched the work and dreamed of one day being a part of something as important as passionate study. Enter, the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Pre-Graduate Internship.
When I first began looking into IE, the person who immediately came to mind as a prime mentor candidate was an instructor I had the year before. Her name was Layne Craig and she taught "Banned Books and Novel Ideas", a class that, literally, kept me sane during my first semester here. I knew she was a grad student and I knew that she absolutely loved literature, so I wrote her an e-mail to see if she was interested. Layne expressed mutual interest in working with me, so she set up a meeting between her dissertation adviser, Lisa Moore, herself, and me. Dr. Moore was incredibly warm and encouraging and the three of us mapped out a plan of attack for the semester. I would be following Layne through the final processes of her dissertation, including attending a group meeting designed to give her constructive criticism that would ultimately make her PhD ticket perfect. I would have the opportunity to attend a very grad school event-the South Central Modern Language Association Conference in San Antonio, where I would listen to graduate students and professors present papers on specific subjects. I was also assigned an Annotated Bibliography project, in which I would find sources related to Layne's dissertation, cite them properly, and give a couple-paragraph description of how the article is useful and what it contains. Along with all of the technical stuff, I would have the chance to see exactly what an English graduate student goes through academically and intra/interpersonally. I was, needless to say, stoked.
The SCMLA conference in San Antonio was so cool. It's hard to verbalize more adequately. There was, essentially, a hotel full of brilliant people, most of whom had written dozens of brilliant papers. They each were presenting one of these pieces to a room of people, along with a few other authors writing on related subjects. Not only did I have the opportunity to hear Layne read one of her pieces (which was great), but I also heard papers on the concept of contraception and marriage in Irish plays, an analysis on a book about a house made of words, a paper presented in Spanish, a paper regarding the influence of Jonathan Edward's wife in his work, an analysis of an isolated incident of fans taking pieces of an author's body away from his grave because of a poem instructing them to do so, and many, many others. I was among people who loved literature. I have never, honestly, felt more at home academically than I did in that hotel full of readers.
The dissertation meeting that I attended was a very interesting experience. There were eight people in a small room, sitting around a table. We each had a copy of Layne's dissertation and there were chocolates being passed around generously. Then everyone just sort of started talking. They asked Layne questions about why she worded things the way she did and why the paper was constructed in certain ways. They laughed and joked about the subject matter (after all, some of it was a little explicit-her paper is on motherhood and contraception). I was expecting the jackals to tear her baby apart, but, instead, I witnessed a cohesive little sanctuary where ideas were tossed around and everything was "for the good of the paper".
After everyone had mentioned all they had to say about Layne's paper, all eyes were on me. I had a great opportunity to ask questions. I asked everyone if they went straight to graduate school after undergrad, if they worked, and how their choice benefited what they did. Layne went straight through and she'll be (hopefully, probably) getting her PhD by this summer at 28. Some of the students taught at private schools and public schools in between, one worked with computers, and one had worked for a publisher. All of them, however, had continued to love literature and had continued to love dissecting it and pushing it and testing it, even when they had left an academic realm. I just could not get past the immense love for education and books and discussion.
This is not the first time I have done an Annotated Bibliography project, so it worked out similarly to how I had completed them before. I started with researching the school's systems, like Academic Search Complete. UT has some pretty awesome recourses and finding sources here has never been an issue. If I found a source I'd skim it and make sure it was what I was looking for. After that, I'd read it in entirety and then write a 2ish paragraph explanation of what's inside the article and how it's useful. For those of you who don't know, people who are working on huge research projects (like dissertations) find it incredibly useful to keep annotated bibs around, in case they are looking for a specific sort of textual evidence. They can look at the annotations of the sources they know are credible already and quickly find what they need.
All in all, I found the IE experience to be a very rewarding one. I learned that grad students are some of the liveliest people in the universe and can also be the biggest recluses when they are working on something. I learned that the most successful grad students are the ones who genuinely love what it is they are researching. I also learned that there is a community that is perfect for me-A place where people get paid to read books they love, analyze them, talk about them with other smart people, and, eventually, be recognized as experts in their field. IE has solidified that grad school is definitely for me.