Before my 8 A.M. class the other day, I ran into one of my friends from grad school out in the hallway. This friend is currently in her second (and final) year as a MA student and teaching assistant, and we were catching up about how classes were going when I asked her if she was still applying to PhD programs.
I knew her answer before she even said the words.
“No,” she said. “I think I’m just going to do what you did and work for a year.”
Why was I not surprised by her answer? Because I had made the same decision myself, not just once, but now two years in a row.
Since our university only offers a terminal MA program, the pressure to apply to and be accepted into PhD programs is incredibly high. We get this pressure from our TA advisers, our professors, and our department chair. Alternative careers are pretty much only discussed at the grad students’ requests, and, while the faculty would never openly admit it, such alt-ac careers are somewhat looked down upon in the department.
Because of this emphasis on PhD program placement, professional development for MA students is highly prized in our department. We hear about the importance of attending and presenting at conferences over and over again, with CFPs being passed along to us all of the time. In every class, we are told how much having published writing matters and receive tips on how to revise class assignments for publication. We are encouraged to participate in workshops, join department committees, volunteer for campus events, and chair presentations for conferences on campus. All of this is, of course, on top of a full load of graduate courses. Oh, yeah, and we have two classes to teach.
As MA students and teaching assistants, we are split into three different roles: that of student, that of teacher, and that of emerging scholar. We are supposed to be the best we can be in all three categories in order to better our chances of getting those coveted positions in doctoral programs. Beyond our coursework, class planning, and grading, we are so consumed with conferences and publications that GRE scores, writing samples, and personal statements fall to the wayside. We’re so busy trying to become the best candidates that we can be that we run out of the time and energy necessary to actually apply for these programs when application season rolls around. So, we put off applying, hoping to give our materials the time and attention they deserve the next time around.
And the cycle begins again.