During my time in graduate school last semester I wrote many posts about my experience. Honestly, most of them kinda seemed unhappy. I basically laid out that I wouldn't be returning to school in the spring, but as all things with me, life changes. Today I want to talk about my decision to return to graduate school.
Let's Talk About Last Semester
So obviously, first things first, we gotta chat about my fall semester. I was literally a walking train wreck last semester. There were so many wrong turns and hardships. The semester honestly felt doomed from the start. During the last half of the summer I started getting major doubts. I would hate everything about the idea of going to graduate school. I would cry like every day and beg my parents not to make me go and to let me drop all my plans and stay home. I looked into the Americorps, I applied for some jobs with my B.A. in Sociology, I looked into moving to some bigger cities in Arkansas (especially Little Rock to be around my sister.) I was desperate. I said that if I got a position offering I would drop school and focus on work for a while (around a year until I could figure out the graduate program I wanted to attend.)
Well, obviously that didn't work out, and in August I moved to Jonesboro. The first little bit was good, my roommates were cool, but classes hit me like a ton of bricks. Specifically Social Theory. The class had 8 books, a professor who seemed a little too harsh, and just a lot of work. Work that I definitely wasn't used to doing in undergrad. I was swamped, and I was drowning.
It got so bad that I dropped his course (without talking to him first which was honestly a mistake.) I ended up sending him an email, and he sent me a really long email that detailed the course and that with showing hard work, the course would be better in the end. I got back in the course (something I didn't know was even possible.) and I continued, still drowning, and not really with a sense of what was going to happen in the end.
Midterms happen, and I am more behind in one of my favorite classes, Social Movements, than I think I am. I looked at the questions on the take home mid-term and I realized I had no idea what I was doing. I decide to drop that class for sanity reasons, and to hopefully be able to focus more on Social Theory, which was still kicking my booty.
So a few weeks after Fall break I return home, distraught. At the current time I don't really remember why I was so upset. I didn't feel worthy of graduate school, and honestly I didn't know if this was the graduate program for me. Again, I started looking for outs, I started looking for ways to get out of the program. I even have a note saved in my phone from November 4th where I wanted to drop out of the program and school completely. I was also looking into other programs besides the Sociology program at Arkansas State (mainly because I had signed a year lease and there was still time to apply for the next semester) I had even called around to another program for information on their application process.
I am a very family oriented person. So I decided to talk with my family. My family is pretty strict on me when it comes to education and it comes from literally every direction: my mom, dad, and sister. I am almost certain even my brother-in-law, niece, and nephew (even though he can't really even talk in full sentences yet) give me the same spiel. I knew though because of the way that I am, if I didn't quit at that exact moment (when I was at my lowest), I wouldn't quit. I knew that this was the time to peace out, if I ever was going to. I was distraught, but my parents and sister convinced me that I had to finish the semester. Not gonna lie, I was pissed, but I obliged because I care what my family thinks of my decisions a lot.
So, this is where the semester really got interesting. The activities where still hard, but I was getting into the part of the semester that I liked. I was thinking about things I loved and reading about things I adored. I even got to read one of the best sociological books I'd ever read and one that resonated with me so much, “Racism Without Racists” by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. My two courses Social Research Methods and Social Theory and all my other involvements with my blog and Tri Sigma were beginning to co-exist more and more.
The professor that I quoted above as being “a little too harsh” turned out to be a great person, once I got to know him, and he encouraged me to apply for a graduate assistantship for the Spring 2016 semester. I did, with a little timid-ness because I honestly still wasn't sure if StAte was where I wanted to be, but I applied and got the position. This was one of the first things that made me genuinely happy about my time at Arkansas State thus far.
I ended the semester with a 3.5 GPA.
Reflection On What I Did Horribly Wrong In Graduate School
Honestly I could go on and on about all the things I did wrong last semester. These are things I didn't do wrong at all when I went to the University of Central Arkansas. I knew exactly how these activities might affect my experience, because I saw them impact the collegiate experience of plenty of freshmen at my Alma Mater UCA.
I Didn't Get Involved in Graduate School
This is honestly the biggest thing. I didn't get involved at all. I found it a bit hard to connect with my classmates because a lot of them didn't live in Jonesboro or they had families of their own. The Sociology program at UCA is overwhelmingly young because we only have Bachelor's degrees and no online program components in our department, but the MA program at my new school was a bit older. Arkansas State is also a different feel than UCA. It's bigger, and for me scarier, because I didn't have anything forcing me to get involved at all.
I Spent Way Too Much Time With Family
I love my daily calls with my family, and I am so thankful that they helped me during my first semester at StAte, but I depended on them way too much. I never tried the Jonesboro life, I was honestly a hermit and I didn't try to make friends or meet people outside of my department. I was closed off to the world and I shut a lot of people out because of that.
I Focused Too Much On What I Thought I Couldn't Do
Instead of working hard on my class, I wallowed in self-pity. I screamed to the top of my lungs, “I am too stupid to understand XYZ,” instead of focusing on what I could do, and making my way slowly through the rest. I let that “You Can't Do This” mentality affect my work, and my actual ability to do things. I could do it, I was just stuck in a state of feeling sorry for myself and hurting myself in the end by doing that.
I Criticized The Graduate School Program For Being Too Difficult
Undergraduate life was a breeze for me in the same way that high school life was a breeze. With minimum work I was able to keep up a mostly Bs and sometimes As way of life, and I didn't have to do too much. So when I got to graduate school, I couldn't skate by. Instead of saying that I should work harder, I accused the program of sucking the fun out of Sociology. I was adamant that Sociology should always be fun, and that it was no longer fun because I had to put in work. (I was pretty horrible last semester, huh?) Now I know that Sociology can't always be rainbows and butterflies (as Maroon 5 says it's compromise that moves us along.) Sociology, especially getting through some of the readings was going to take hard work and dedication–especially if I wanted to be as knowledgeable as some of the sociologists that I looked up to during my undergraduate and graduate career.
So, Now What?
I am about a week into my semester as of yesterday, and I have realized I have come to a part in my school career where I have to make some important decisions. I know that I love sociology and I'd love to continue to learn as much as possible about the discipline as I can. Now, I have to put in the work to accomplish that. I have to take every opportunity that I can physically and emotionally handle, but I also have to find time to schedule for myself and my own mental health. It's a mixture of being a super student, and a human who needs things like sleep and human connection.
I am excited about this semester though. I am getting the opportunity to study courses I love. The opportunity to help a professor with one of his courses, which is also in an area of sociology that I love. I am also getting the opportunity to have that involvement in the department that I yearned for last semester.
I have also grown a lot since last semester. I have come to the understanding that this won't be easy for me. I will have to put in more work for this than I ever have, because that's something that's mandatory. Getting a Masters or a PhD shouldn't be easy (and I am not sure if I'd want for it to be a breeze) there is always something I could do to challenge myself more. I think it's all about striking a balance, knowing when to say yes to those opportunities and knowing when to say no for sanity reasons. I will definitely be updating y'all about this semester on the blog (and always on social media, follow me on Twitter for all the updates/rants/raves about graduate school, because I definitely showcase them there!)
I am excited to see where this semester is going to take me. I am excited to try my hardest to get more involved, achieve more, and keep my sanity. Not sure if everything will work out, but I am going to try my hardest.
TL; DR (Too Long, Didn't Read?)
I made this video just for that, although it's 8 minutes long so…it talks about my experience with graduate school and why I decided to stay. There were lots of reasons, and it's a really complex situation. Things are not always as black and white as they seem: