A couple weeks ago, I asked my friends on Instagram if they’d be interested to hear about my experience in my master’s program. An overwhelming amount of them kindly said they did, so I went a step further and asked what they would like to know. Below are some of the questions I’ve received and my, hopefully, helpful responses. Some questions I reserved for Part II because they require more in-depth answers. I will be posting it soon though!
For context, I am a graduate student at the University of Guam pursuing a Master of Arts in English with a Literature track. I began my program in the Fall of 2018 and my projected graduation date is December 2020. As such, I can only give my experience and advice based on my specific program.
Here’s what I go over in Part I:
The Process and the Program
– What’s the process like?
– Why did you decide to go to UOG?
– In what cases is it beneficial to go straight for a PhD instead of a masters?
– Expectations vs Reality?
– Undergrad vs. Grad?
– Professor interaction compared to undergrad?
The Thesis Process:
– How do you choose a thesis?
– What is the process of completing that thesis?
– Best places for sources?
– How did you know who you wanted to work with? (e.g. thesis chair)
– For your thesis, would you consider doing that with other cultures’ stories?
My Personal Journey and Advice to You:
– Fav moments?
– Fav things you’ve read?
– Is it worth it?
– Does your future career choice require a masters?
– What can you do with your degree?
– What inspired you to keep going when thesis research got bumpy?
– Thoughts on taking a gap year?
The Process and the Program
- What’s the process like?
- Pre-application: For my program, I was required to submit a graduate application with my undergraduate transcript and letters of recommendation. I applied a week before classes started. For other programs, you’ll definitely need to plan as several graduate programs require you to apply a semester before classes even start and might require other documents. Make sure to do your research!
- Credits: Once you get accepted, the English Program requires that students take 9-12 credits or 3-4 courses before they apply for thesis credits. You’ll need a total of 36 credit hours with 6 of those hours being dedicated to thesis. Most of us opted for 2-3 classes a semester as 4 classes, along with our respective jobs and responsibilities, could prove challenging.
- Thesis: For those who aren’t aware, a thesis is pretty much a final research project, often in the form of a 45-65 page essay. You can choose to go the traditional thesis writing route or the creative thesis route. I chose the latter. Here’s a snippet I stole from my university’s website:
Students who follow the traditional option are those who desire to increase their mastery of a given content area and might be contemplating doctoral work in the future. Students who select the creative option might be preparing to teach creative writing in the schools, to work as editors and publishers, or will be writing for personal accomplishment. (“Admission Requirements“)
- Whatever you choose will have its own challenges, so choose a path that’s interesting and sustainable for you. The best part about your thesis is that it’s yours. While you get to choose what you want to write about, however, your thesis should still showcase the knowledge you accumulated in your courses, which can include a strong command of language and firm understanding and application of theory.
- Why did you decide to go to UOG?
- Everyone thinks of cost when choosing a school. Well, almost everyone. I remember going for a drive with two friends of mine. One of them was complaining about how he had spent over $70k for his degree in business and how his job was only paying him a little more than minimum wage. At this time, I also only had a B.A. and was about to pull out loans for my M.A. while only having a part time job.
- My other friend, who doesn’t have her degree and who was also likely tired of listening to us complain said, “I don’t even have my degree and I’m still making more than both of you.”
- That’s when I realized I didn’t want to drop $70k+ on a big, fancy school mistakenly thinking my inevitable success would be tied to its name. I knew I could receive just as good of an education at UOG. I already knew the professors, knew that I wanted to study indigenous and pacific Literature, and knew I could accomplish all I wanted with paying a fraction of the price.
- In what cases is it beneficial to go straight for a PhD instead of a masters? and/or vice versa?
- I wish I could answer this, but I can’t as I have no experience with it. I can, however, table this for a later post where I interview my professors or other graduate students.
- Expectations vs Reality? Undergrad vs. Grad? Workload?
- Expectation: The classes will be 10x harder. I’ll hate my life.
- Reality: When I was taking course work, I was submitting 1-3 essays a week and reading 200+ pages of text along with it. The beginning of the semester usually starts slow, but once it hits midterms it felt like the rest of the semester was me trying to catch up. The rigor and expectation is definitely heightened, but I also had the freedom to choose what classes I wanted to take. Because my program is relatively small, the professors are really accommodating with students. They always ask for our input and what classes we would like to take next semester. I was actually super interested in what I was learning. So while it was 10x harder, it was far more enjoyable than undergrad.
- Expectation: I wouldn’t have time to do anything other than school.
- Reality: I had a part-time writing job, TA’d for my division, joined an outside league for basketball, and still hung out with friends. I just had to plan, prioritize, and recognize when I needed to buckle down and write that paper.
- Expectation: I’ll finally have my life together and have it all figured out.
- Reality: I don’t.
- Expectation: I’ll be broke.
- Reality: I mean, I’m nowhere where I want to be financially but I had more opportunities presented to me in graduate school. Because I narrowed my area of focus, it was easier for me to find the right place to network and the right people to work with.
- In what ways did this program nurture and limit your growth as a writer?
- Great question! I’ll save this for Part II. 😉
- Professor interaction compared to undergrad?
- Very good in my program! Some classes are hybrid, meaning it’s a mix of undergraduate students and graduate students (usually 1-2 other grads). In grad-only classes, the typical size is about 5 students, so not only did I form a close relationship with my professors, I also created a much needed bond with my cohort.
The Thesis Process:
- How do you choose a thesis topic?
- Professors often advise students to have a potential thesis topic or area of interest in mind before they even enter the program. A lot of professors are very accommodating and will allow their students to tailor one or more essay assignments to their class and the student’s thesis. For instance, in my SciFi class, I drafted a story with the same theories I used in my thesis (post-colonialism and ecofeminism). What I learned from this essay was a valuable contribution to my actual thesis. So the sooner you know what you’re interested in, the better!
- I learned, too, that the best way to choose a topic is to find something interesting AND important to me. Then interrogate the hell out of it.
- Interesting: Mythology, Folklore
- Important: My culture, my creative writing, valuable ways to create art, uplift voices from marginalized communities
- My questions: How do Filipino myths shape the perception of women in the Philippines? How do they reflect the treatment of the environment? How can myths be adapted to reflect current times while also remaining a mirror of history/herstory? How can this be valuable and to what communities?
- Theories: Eco-feminism, Post-colonialism, Abjection
- What is the process of completing a thesis?
- Before I decided to write my thesis, I first had to register for thesis credits. Before I registered for thesis credits, I first had to find an advisor or thesis chair (I’ll get into this more in another question).
- Once I chose my advisor, I chose my committee (usually two to three other professors or scholars) to help me along in this journey. They didn’t need to be experts in my topic, although that certainly helps, but I chose them because they could offer valuable insight to my project.
- Next, I spent roughly 6 credit hours dedicated to reading, researching, organizing and drafting my manuscript, which is now nearing 67 pages.
- You can break up your 6 credits any way you want. Some only take 1 thesis credit a semester, others take 3-4. It’s up to you. For some areas of study, your final project might not even be in the form of a long essay. Some colleges have an oral exam. Be aware of your options!
- Best places for sources?
- I found a lot of valuable sources on JSTOR, but since my topic deals with indigenous narratives I had to move past the white-men-mostly databases and seek permission to access articles from universities in the Philippines. I also checked the bibliographies of the articles that related to my topic and tried to find the ones of interest to me. If it was a book, I often checked The Project Gutenberg for free texts. Otherwise, I just got really good at wording research topics and tacking ‘scholarly article’ at the end of the google search bar.
- Before you pay for access to certain sources, check to see if your library or thesis chair is part of an affiliate program where they can retrieve articles from other universities for free. You’d be surprised how many expensive texts and articles I was able to gain access to for free.
- How did you know who you wanted to work with? (e.g. thesis chair)
- Before I chose my thesis chair, I had to think about the kind of student I was and the type of professors I needed. I knew I needed structure and too much freedom would be debilitating to my productivity. I also knew I wanted to work with someone who was knowledgeable about the theories I wanted to apply, but who was also open to learning about my own thesis topic and balanced that structure with freedom.
- So I chose an awesome chair who required me to write up a 10 page proposal and have a working list of references before I even started writing. It. Sucked. But I needed it. This proposal helped me refine my topic in many ways. She also required me to create realistic deadlines and made sure I stuck to them.
- Some professors won’t require a proposal or will give you all the freedom you need and some students thrive with this method. They have their own methods of structure and organization that, sadly, I lack. So choosing the right person to chair your thesis will be heavily informed by how aware you are of your own study and writing habits and how well you know your professors professor-ing habits (?? idk either).
- For your thesis, would you consider doing that with other culture’s stories?
- One of the purposes of my thesis is to illustrate one of the many ways indigenous writers can use creative writing to heal colonial wounds and rebuild their own identities unencumbered by the negative stigmas attached to their respective cultures and beliefs. My project seeks to carve a space, specifically, for Filipino narratives to converse with the wide array of stories already told in the corpus of western academia, young adult literature, and mythology. It’s so specific to my home that my hope wouldn’t be to tell the stories of other nations and cultures, but to hopefully encourage indigenous writers to tell their own stories in their own ways.
My Personal Journey and advice to you:
- Fav moments?
- My favorite moments all revolve around my cohort. There’s no specific moment, but there’s the specific feelings of struggling and despairing, doubting yourself and what you’re writing but ultimately pushing through and doing it with a supportive group of friends who are all going through the same thing. Sometimes we’d be so stress that our only response was to laugh like psychos over very real fears like what if we don’t finish in time or what if we can’t find a job after?
- & to me, those are my favorite moments because they taught me that even in the midst of all this underlying fear and palpable stress, that we could still find the energy to laugh and have a good time. Those moments really convinced me that no matter what happens, it’ll all be okay.
- Fav thing you’ve read?
- The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
- I read it in my EN680: Seminar in Contemporary Critical Theory class and wrote an essay applying my knowledge of environmental stylistics. I hated this paper so much that my love for it was inevitable.
- Is it worth it?
- I’m always weary of answering this question: Is it worth it? It depends on what your goals are and what you make of your degree. I know everyone hates that answer, but it’s the most truthful one I have. I do think my degree was and is worth it because I learned so much about myself and my area of study. BUT I KNOW! We want to know about job opportunities. See the next question.
- Does your future career choice require a masters?
- No. I would like to work in a publishing house, specifically in adult literature, or become a self-sustaining author. Both of which do not require a master’s degree but it does help in whatever profession I do choose to go into and it does entail a pay increase, soooooo.
- Yes. I would also like to work as a librarian, which does require a master’s degree in Library Science.
- What can you do with your degree?
- Other careers I could pursue with my degree: Marketing, Advertisement, Public Relations, Freelance Writing, Media and Journalism, Law (e.g. paralegal, lawyer), Copyediting, Technical Writing, Teaching, etc.
- You can basically do anything with an English degree if you’re driven enough to apply what you’ve learned and know the value and application of cross-disciplinary skills–– of which English has many. The most common and most valuable for almost all job markets are a strong command of language, exceptional writing, and strong communication skills.
- What inspired you to keep going when thesis research got bumpy?
- I didn’t want to be a little cry baby bitch. I thought about how many people would kill to be in my position, people who don’t have access to education, and who don’t have a supportive group of family and friends–– all people who deserve the right to an education. So I didn’t and don’t want to waste such a blessing. CORNY, I know, but that’s my honest answer.
- When I first began this specific journey, I wanted to make my parents proud. As I near the end, I’ve come to realize that it’s just as important to make myself proud, which is arguably a lot harder.
- Thoughts on taking a gap year?
- I think for some people, it’s a great idea! I know fellow graduates who took a gap year, travelled, taught in other countries, accumulated “real world” experience and came back refreshed and even more ready for the school year. They dominated their course work.
- In contrast, some people would rather just get straight into it, i.e. me. I was afraid that if I took a gap year, I would lose the motivation to go back to school. So, again, it depends on the person.
I’m all written out. Thank you for reading and I hope some of what I’ve shared has been useful in some way. Maybe it even convinced you to say, “Fuck a master’s degree!” To which I reply, “Do you, boo.” I don’t think a master’s degree is necessary (for the most part!) to be “successful” but I do believe knowledge and education are always an investment and you are worthy of that.
Some questions I’ll be covering in Part II:
- How to deal with full time and school! Mix of online and in person classes? Gives and takes.
- In what ways did this program nurture and limit your growth as a writer?
- What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?
- My tips for optimizing your reading and writing time