I’m not sure what to write here, honestly. I’ve been steadily working toward this point since I took the LSAT in 2008. Of course, my goals changed, and I took the GRE in August 2010. I went from wanting to be a human rights attorney to wanting to work in sustainable development in Africa. Now I’m looking at a PhD in History, in order to research human trafficking on the continent of Africa.
I’ve emailed the professors whose research is related to mine. I’ve researched graduate programs and schools. I have already ordered all of the official transcripts, and test scores. I even have the letters of recommendation lined up.
Now I have to cope with the pent-up stress of not being where I thought I would be by age 23, coupled with the stress of job searching. I’m unfocused, and it shows in my scatter-shot efforts to DO SOMETHING. It’s difficult to wake up for 2+ years to another day of un(der)employment, another day of unpaid, unseen work that yields little, if any tangible results. Employers don’t respond, save for an automated email: “Thank you for your application.” I send out applications, cover letters, tweaked resumes and curriculum vitae with a prayer.
I have to stop taking this personally. I do. But it’s hard for me to separate “being” from “doing” when I’m so singular. I have to fight to filter out the voices that tell me who I ought to be or how I’ve failed or fallen short. The sense that I am stupid, unintelligent, deficient or incapable assails me on the most difficult mornings. And I have to remember to keep my armor on, and to filter out the voices. Why should I let what other people say about me define how I see myself? Why should I let other people tell me who I am?
Who I am is not what I do. This is a distinction that is often lost in American culture. The language of capitalistic self-valuation is demonstrated when we ask “What do you do?” “What are you?” The assumption is that being employed makes you somebody, and being un(der)employed makes you nobody. I happen to be un(der)employed after graduating into one of the worst recessions in recent history. I’m 23, with 7 years of substantive work experience ranging from being a teacher and a research assistant to being a supervisor. I have the education, skills, experience and knowledge to do a job well, but I don’t have a job.
(Then there’s the added stress of my hearing possibly getting worse. My ears never rang this loudly before. It’s tough enough being hearing-impaired…)
Now, circle back to graduate school applications. I’m struggling with balancing my job search with the process of applying to graduate school. I know I need to find the academic sources I need to write a full-bodied, focused statement of purpose, but I also feel the need to follow up on this job application, send out that cover letter. I have no routine. I have no defined, purposeful demarcation of my day. Hours just flow in clumps and ebbs, while I search for the “right” word for the cover letter, email or article I’m writing.
I’m actually doing pretty well. I just revamped my curriculum vitae to include new freelance & consultant work. I finished an article on remittances to Northern Kenya, where 4 million (approximately 10% of Kenya’s population) is suffering drought. I have also made contact with 11 professors who could potentially be my advisors as I complete my PhD.
The schools on my list (a work-in-progress) include:
- Princeton University
- Cornell University
- Yale University
- Harvard University
New York University
- Columbia University
- University of Kent
University of Pennsylvania
- University of Chicago
If I were to extend my field of interest, I could look at African Studies programs, I’d consider:
- School of Oriental and African Studies (London)
- Columbia University, African Studies
U.C. Berkeley, African Diaspora Studies
- University of Kent at Canterbury, Postcolonial Studies
- Yale University, African Studies