Tag Archives: Essay

FAQ: My Master’s Program Part I

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?
– Workload?

– 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

 

 

 

 

 

Confronting the Burden of Freedom in the Face of Systematic Religion

Confronting the Burden of Freedom in the Face of Systematic Religion
An Exegesis of “The Saint” by V.S. Pritchett

“My thought is me: that’s why I can’t stop. I exist because I think… and I can’t stop myself from thinking. At this very moment – it’s frightful – if I exist, it is because I am horrified at existing. I am the one who pulls myself from the nothingness to which I aspire.”
– Jean-Paul Sartre

“How extraordinary it is that one feels most guilt about the sins one is unable to commit.”
V.S. Pritchett

“Il n’y a de réalité que dans l’action.[1]
Jean-Paul Sartre

The great burden and blessing of life is the innate freedom belonging to humanity. We are free to live, free to die, free to walk to the grocery store or drive there. Our very identity is comprised of choices that have been dictated by our own actions or inactions. Perhaps the question is not whether or not we have choices but rather, which one is the better of the two, or the three, or the myriad of other possibilities. The facticities of life may illucidize[2] us into believing we are limited in opportunity– that the only choice is to take that test, to continue living, to wallow in poverty– yet what this truly points to is the reluctance of individuals to accept the responsibilities, burdens, and uncertainties of the other options we are too afraid to unbury. In V.S. Pritchett’s “The Saint,”[3] the burden of freedom surfaces from the depths of systematic religion– that which confines its congregation to routine behaviors that restrict individual consciousness and displaces responsibility.

In the Church of the Last Purification, the image of God is unsullied by imperfection and is revered. Mr. Timberlake and his congregation all seek an entity who will cast his final judgement on the world, determine the outcome of their individual lives, and thereby, remove the responsibility of action. To be a part of the Purification is to become a passive participant of one’s own life. It is to immobilize the fearful limbs of uncertainty. When the narrator describes Mr. Timberlake after he unmasks the pretense of the Purification, he claims, “By no word did he acknowledge the disasters or the beauties of the world,” (Pritchett 620); he was a man unable and unwilling to grasp onto reality long enough to participate in the world around him. The characters in the text illustrate this passivity through their dependence on God to provide the necessities of life. The uncle is described as a man “always in difficulties about money […] convinced that in some way God would help him” (612). The congregation lays in constant wait for the way to be “shown” to them rather than actively pursuing their opportunities (615). In Being and Nothingness[4], Sartre writes:

I am abandoned in the world, not in the sense that I might remains abandoned and passive in a hostile universe like a board floating on the water but rather in the sense that I find myself suddenly alone and without help, engaged in a world for which I bear the whole responsibility without being able, whatever I do, to tear myself away from this responsibility in an instant. For I am responsible for my very desire of fleeing responsibilities. To make myself passive in the world, to refuse to act upon things and upon Others is still to choose myself, and suicide is one mode among others of being-in-the-world. (710)

What the characters in the story are doing is allowing their abandonment to take root and control their lives. The facticity of their worlds remains unmastered and prevails through the weak will to substantiate their existence.

The Purification, moreover, is under the misconception that attaining a transcendent state of being will fill the lack, the nothingness, that all humans come from. Yet, this pursuit is a vain endeavor. Humans are incapable of perceiving perfection– a state which, by its very definition and the facts of their very existence, is unattainable. Sartre writes, “Human reality arises as such in the presence of its own totality or self as a lack of that totality. And this totality can not be given by nature, since it combines in itself the incompatible characteristics of the in-itself and the for-itself” (140). Thus, because they cannot perceive or experience perfection, they can never truly attain it. Because humanity possess consciousness, they can never truly become a being-in-itself. They are confined to the for-itself. To immortalize God (a being-in-itself) as they are (a being-for-itself) is to immobilized the progression of humanity– to deny the ability to surpass even the standards by which perfection was first casted.

To expand, in the narrative, Mr. Timberlake serves as a god amongst men and women. He is idealized and glorified. His presence in the narrator’s home is described as an honor. The narrator recalls, “It was unbelievable that a man so eminent would actually sit in our dining-room, use our knives and forks, and eat our food. Every imperfection in our home and our characters would jump out at him” (Pritchett 613). The flaws of their daily living, mundane aspects of their home that another would hardly notice, are starkly contrasted in the presence of this ideal being. His every word is law. Again, the narrator continues, “Whatever Mr. Timberlake believed must be true and as I listened to him at lunch, I thought there could be no finer life than this” (Pritchett 614). Yet, what we will come to find is that Mr. Timberlake is merely a human hiding beneath the pretense of perfection. He is a man who has abandoned the onus of his existence. He was a man “formally acknowledging a world he did not live in. It was too interesting, too eventful a world. His spirit, inert and preoccupied, was elsewhere in an eventless and immaterial habitation” (Pritchett 619). Mr. Timberlake looks at the physical world with “boredom,”(Pritchett 619) not actualizing his physical presence. He is disrobed of the illusion when he falls into the river. The narrator describes the moment: “It was a fatal flaw in a statue, an earthquake crack that made the monumental mortal… he was a declining dogma” (Pritchett 617-18).

In the text, the Purification and the existence of a God functions more as an illusion of security than an genuine pursuit for self-fulfillment. Yet, The inability to recognize the deficiencies of life, puts the members of the church in danger. Pritchett writes:

We regarded it as ‘Error’– our name for Evil– to believe the evidence of our senses, and if we had influenza or consumption, or had lost our money or were unemployed, we denied the reality of these things, saying that since God could not have made them they therefore did not exist. (612)

When Mr. Timberlake accompanies the young narrator punting down the river, a branch bares itself in the way. Governed by rules that deny the existence of a hazardous situation, Mr. Timberlake denies that there is a branch and as a result he falls in the river. Despite reality, in the eyes of the Purification, he did not fall and the branch was not present. In accordance with his faith, he continues on the day acting as if he is not drenched and the event did not happen; God would not bring into being an object that would hurt his creations. Sartre argues, however, that, “[humanity] is responsible for the world and for [themselves] as a way of being… since [humanity] is the one by whom it happens that there is a world; since [humanity] is also the one who makes [themselves] be” (707). The belief of the Purification displaces the responsibility of action to that of a being with no physical existence– who lacks any grounding in reality. Moreover, renouncing the onus of existence is still an act in itself. Sartre continues, “I am ashamed of being born or I am astonished at it or I rejoice over it, or in attempting to get rid of my life I affirm that I live and I assumed this life as bad” (710). There is only the world which we live in and there are only the choices we make. The trees, the air we breathe, the solid ground beneath our feet are tangible proofs of existence. To place blame on anyone other than himself for his own actions, Mr. Timberlake–– and in a larger sense, the Purification–– refuses to accept the burden of responsibility that freedom entails. They seek purification to provide the comfort of a predetermined existence. The narrator comes to realize this for himself when he is disillusioned of Mr. Timberlake’s ideality. He states:

I saw the shoes dip, the water rise above his ankles and up his socks. He tried to move his grip now to a yet higher branch– he did not succeed– and in making this effort his coat and waistcoat rise and parted from his trousers[…] It was at this moment I realized that the final revelation about man and society on earth had come to nobody and that Mr. Timberlake knew nothing at all about the origin of evil. (618)

The narrator realizes that this man, whom all members of the church have glorified, is no better than the rest. Yet, perhaps Mr. Timberlake had been aware of his lack all along when the narrator recalls, “[Mr. Timberlake] had come out with me, I saw, to show me that he was only human,” (620) which illustrates the active choice in remaining ignorant.

Another confining aspect of the Purification that Pritchett brings forth is the threat of a blanketed ideology that denies individual consciousness. An unspoken rule to establish membership in the church is that one’s own thoughts are poisonous to the goal– to the pursuit of transcendence. What follows are guidelines set to deny the negative outcomes that inevitably enter the lives of each character. Once again, when the narrator warns Mr. Timberlake of the branch obstructing his path, the faithful man proclaims that the branch is barely a challenge. The narrator then thinks to himself, “I did not want to offend one of the leaders of our church, so I put the paddle down; but I felt I ought to have taken him further along away from the irritation of the trees” (Pritchett 616). In an earlier passage the narrator is discouraged from exploring his thoughts when his uncle remarks, “This is my nephew. He thinks he thinks, but I tell him he only thinks he does” (Pritchett 614). This mentality discourages individual existence and reduces it to a whole, unified being. The foundation of this perceived unity, however, is laid with fear of repercussions from all members of the Purification. Sartre writes of subjectivity and individual experiences that “for [him], this glass is to the left of the decanter and a little behind it; for Pierre, it is to the right and a little in front. It is not even conceivable that a consciousness survey the world in such a way that the glass should be simultaneously given to it at the right and at the left of the decanter, in front of and behind it” (405). Thus, individual experiences are the only truth there is. A life cannot be dictated by a universal ethic, by which there is none.

Despite recognizing the restrictive nature of religion, one is left to wonder why it still prevails to this day. Churches are filled to the brim every Sunday. Theology is a pertinent subject in many private educations. Priests stand around pews preaching homilies from morning, afternoon, and twilight. Religion is, to many, a necessary part of being. While the primary argument of “The Saint” demonizes the Purification, the system of religion as a whole should not be demonized. For followers of Jesus, Allah, Yahweh, and the countless other gods, a sense of belonging overshadows individuation. The hope for an hereafter designed as paradise or the fear of the afterlife consumed in fires, albeit intangible and unprovable in our reality, can greatly drive one’s actions. Sartre writes: “My abandonment–i.e. My facticity– consists simply in the fact that I am condemned to be wholly responsible for myself (711). Hence, should our endeavors never reach fulfillment or our lives turn dark with dismay, we must assume the burden of the outcomes. This proves a paralyzing concept and some may find comfort in an assigned or predictable routine. What many view as “freedom” or “lack of freedom” is a neutral concept awaiting to be assigned a negative or positive character created by a subjective experience.

In a more positive light, while done to the extreme may prove unhealthy, perhaps denying the negative events that occur can alleviate the stresses of life and provide a sense of comfort. After his incident in the river, Mr. Timberlake tells the narrator, “Let’s go on. We‘re not going to let a little thing like this spoil a beautiful afternoon” (Pritchett 618). As the story progresses, the narrator recounts, “Heart disease, it was plain, was the cause of the death of Mr. Timberlake… It was a miracle, the doctor said, that he had lived as long. Any time during the last twenty years the smallest shock might have killed him” (Pritchett 620). It is at this point of the story where the narrator comes to realize that the Purification and its teachings saved Mr. Timberlake from an untimely end. This only affirms the notion that religion serves multiple purposes. While for the narrator it disillusoned him into discovering his own consciousness and reclaiming his freedom, for Mr. Timberlake, his faith, while a pretense, prevented a heart attack; he had “made for himself a protective, sedentary blandness, an automatic smile, a collection of phrases,” which provided him the comfort and security many seek for in religion.

Thus, to truly understand our purpose in this world, we must first recognize it as the only world. We can only fully understand our reality through our own experiences. Following this, we must reclaim our responsibility and move from a passive existence to an active one, in which our pursuits are predominantly governed by physical, forward motion and effort. What then becomes of our actions after this revelation? We may realize these truths, but to what end? The answer is that we must cast off the illusion, understand our responsibility and then decide if we should continue on our existence as individuals in a collectivist society or if we should partake in the ideals of our congregation and alleviate some burden of responsibility. Regardless of the outcomes that follow thereafter, we must always remember that we are never as alive, never as able, and never as responsible as when we become fully cognizant of a moment in which the progression of our lives depend on our action or inaction.

Notes

[1] There is no reality except in action.

[2] For the purposes of my paper, I took the liberty of creating my own word. To illucidize is to incite illusion or cause it to be.

[3] V.S. Pritchett. “The Saint.” The Art of the Tale: An International Anthology of Short Stories, edited by Daniel Halpern, Penguin, 1986, 612-21.

[4] Jean-Paul Sartre. Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology. Translated by Hazel E. Barnes, Washington Square, 1993, 405+.