Post-Graduate Thoughts: “Would You Do It Again?”

Graduating with my MA from UChicago (June 2013)
I was ambushed by cameras…

Since I graduated on 15 June 2013, there’s been a running dialogue in my head. It goes something like this:

Voice 1: “Would you do it again?”

Voice 2: “I can’t answer that question. It’s too soon.”

Voice 1: “Well, would you?”

Voice 2: “Let the scars fade and the pain subside first…”

I don’t want to exaggerate, but graduate school was a painful ordeal for me. I thrived intellectually, but as a whole person, I suffered. It’s too easy to allow the demands of the Academy to consume you, forcing you to bow to the pressure to “give your all” to a structure that promises little more than the ephemera of credentialism (that is, if you do not have the social and economic class to leverage your advanced degree).

In a previous blogpost, I calculated the time that I devoted to writing my MA Thesis. In sum, I wrote 18.389 words (not counting the hefty sections I deleted and re-wrote), produced through 11,807 minutes of ‘editing time’ (the equivalent of about 196.8 hours or 8.2 days). Spread across 8 months, this was about an hour of writing daily.  This does not even calculate the time that went into researching for my Thesis.

Maybe it doesn’t sound like a lot to you, but I see those numbers and wonder what else I could have created with that time, focus and energy. I have the degree, yes, but I wonder if I could have avoided some of those sleepless nights of anxiety over whether I’d “make it.”

Another part of me wonders if this retrospection is a mistake. Hindsight may be 20/20, but it is tinged with nostalgia. What “should have been” and “could have been” is interposed upon “what was” and “what is.” “What is” is that I have my MA degree. “What was” is that I learned hard lessons in the process of fulfilling the requirements of that degree. Alas, memory is a flawed thing, as is “forgetting.”

So I ask myself now, 23 days after I walked across that stage and hugged my MA degree to my chest, “would I do it again?” The answer is, “it depends.”

If, armed with the wisdom that I’ve gained through experience, I did have the choice to attend graduate school again; I would be much more cautious and guarded. I would know not to be shocked when a professor who is a woman of color tells me that I should not be in graduate school (i.e. that I should turn down a funded offer). I would know not to be saddened when another professor of color undermines the “critical” in critical race theory to placate students in her class while penalizing students of color for refusing to soften their ‘tone.’ Nor would I be caught off-guard when an old-guard Cold Warrior professor of Security Studies rejects my de-territorialized notions of nationality- specifically in regard to stateless communities- and attempts to silence me for the rest of the quarter. On a more quotidian note, I would know not to be inured to the microaggressions that come with being the only person (let alone woman) of color in most of the spaces I inhabited. Rather, I would seek out intentional, intersectional community earlier into the process.

Nonetheless, if offered the same opportunity to attend graduate school with a funded offer, I would probably do it, so long as it did not mean foregoing valuable opportunities for practical experience in my chosen field. That is what made my graduate school experience worthwhile, actually. I was able to work within a non-profit organization and do practical work that affects refugee resettlement policies across the nation while attending school. It was this work that showed me the divide between theory and practice, and consequently, the possibilities of praxis outside of spaces which foreclose avenues of activism (although, this is up for debate within the non-profit industrial complex). The figures on the page were not mere “case studies” to be made into objects of inquiry, but they (refugees, stateless persons) were individuals with voices, and their own stories to tell. Remembering that kept me grounded and reminded me of what mattered in the long run.

What mattered wasn’t my graduate school GPA or my own intellectual enrichment (which do matter in their own right, but they are not ends in themselves), but what mattered was that I remembered that the process of attaining (I hesitate to say “earn” or any other meritocratic buzzwords) my degree was a means to an end. Furthermore, what mattered most was remembering the ends toward which I strove. Really, I just want to do work that matters, and this MA certifies my writing and research skills, while bolstering my practical field experience.

That’s what mattered.

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