Fresh from completing my Master’s (or is it Masters?) degree in Art History I had some pretty Hot Takes on the whole process, as you can read in my August 2015 essay, Grad School: One of Life’s Terrible Jokes. In the winter of that same year, I polished off my follow-up Masters in Library and Information Science. Today, I woke up in the early hours of the morning and, in a vain attempt to bore myself back to sleep, I went to Twitter. Unfortunately for me, the year is 2018. Somewhere between weeping into my pillow, donating money to March for Our Lives, and Googling videos of Michael B. Jordan, my mind jumped to my Graduate School Experience.
There are hardscrabble researchers and journalists who can point to studies and tell you that higher-education prepares students in a myriad of ways mostly unrelated to the actual degrees in question. This listicle is not that; this is my personal taking-stock of my grad school experience some two years and a handful of months after graduation.
“Was it worth it?” Of course it was bloody well worth it you absolute hag. This is me, responding to myself. What’s the real price of two-plus years of memories that only grow rosier with time? Quantifiably, I see the privilege and [literal] payout of my degree every single day when I go to work. Do I work hard and deserve my salary and my benefits and my title? Absolutely. The path was made clearer for me, however, by putting the blood, sweat, and tears into my degrees, which in turn was made possible only through no small amount of Privilege. People do not need any degree to be Worthy. Unfortunately, women without college degrees struggle every day to prove their worth. I do not face this struggle; my rungs on the ladder are obstacle free.
Self-Management Without realizing it, I was the iron in the fire of productive self-management throughout graduate school. One of the most nuanced aspects of any post-undergraduate work is self-guided study. In my departments this nuance was akin to the elephant who runs through the room and then disappears into the jungle, only to be heard from again at your final thesis review. I’ve heard fairytales of cozy professorial tête-à-têtes in mahogany libraries where mentor and student translate arcane runes and, together, publish a paper which funds a semester long research fellowship in Malta. By the end of my time in grad school, I would have thrown a party about an email from my advisors that included either grammar, or my name.
Luckily, this lack of structure or guidance honed in me – an already very organized and driven individual – the skills I needed to be a self-sufficient time and project manager. I don’t need the motivation of my leaders to do my job. I learned in grad school to find satisfaction in myself and in the job I’m doing. At least, that’s what I learned to tell myself. I love accolades; I am absolutely still a Hermione and of course I want my work recognized. I don’t need the professor to motivate me to write my paper, I just need the professor to give me a 105% A.
Teamwork is Better I hated group projects so much in grad school I dropped a class after I read the syllabus because the majority of it included a semester’s long group project. In my defense, it was an online class and the thought of doing a project entirely through Google Drive in 2014, with people I didn’t know, still makes me gag. What will come as a surprise to literally no one is that the isolation and competition imposed in graduate school is toxic. It probably (at least partially) accounts for why the Professors’ leadership skills are absolute garbage. It often feels the opposite of productive, but graduate school taught me that while there’s a time to work alone, it’s almost always better to work with friends.
I learned a lot of stuff associated with my degrees too. I can tell you which disciple founded the Catholic church and is considered the first Pope (Peter) and what his main symbol is (keys). Want to know the difference between buon fresco and fresco secco? I’ve got you covered. All this knowledge really helps me run my library’s monthly trivia night at the local bar! I’m allowed to joke about it, you’re not.
To restate my thesis from the beginning, this was my personal experience. The degrees didn’t guarantee me a job, they aided a combination of serendipity and privilege. Everyone does not need a degree and the degree does not determine a person’s worth in work or in life. I’m grateful I have mine, proud of the work I put into them, and looking forward to considering the question again in another two years and a handful of months.