The post below is crossposted at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. It is written by Cali Pitchel McCullough, a Ph.D student in American history at Arizona State University and a 2007 graduate of the history department at Messiah. While at Messiah Cali played on the 2005 team that won the NCAA Division III National Championship in women’s soccer (she was a member of the all-tournament team). She also worked as a Smith Intern for a certain American historian familiar to the readers of this blog. In 2009 Cali completed an M.A. in American Studies at Penn State. She is also a darn good photographer. (See her photo above). Cali lives in Arizona with her husband Quinn.
Cali will be writing regular dispatches from graduate school which I hope to cross-post here at the department blog. Enjoy! –JF
Friday, September 24, 2010.
The past two weeks have been hard. Really hard. Mentally, emotionally, and even physically. I read, I write, I grade—and then I start all over again. The cycle exhausts me. The demands are high and only now can I (shamefully) say that I perhaps entered graduate school with an air of overconfidence.
In the weeks leading up to the program I thought I might be able to swing a part-time job (in case you didn’t know, graduate student stipends provide for little else than the basic necessities). I sifted the classifieds hoping to land a well-paying job suitable for daydreaming and maybe some extra reading. My advisor sharply discouraged me from looking for “support” elsewhere, and he even threatened to rescind my funding. I thought he was overreacting, but I took his advice and decided to start the program despite the dire economic outlook. Turns out, he was right. Reading and writing 50 hours a week and grading for another 10-15 does not allow for time to make extra cash.
In a borderline weepy moment—just a prelude of what’s to come, I’m sure—I lamented to my husband that “graduate school is too hard.” He reminded me that I am in fact pursuing a Ph.D. It’s not supposed to be easy. Although I would have preferred for him to indulge me, he did offer some much needed perspective. He suggested I compare my four-year journey towards a doctoral degree to a marathon. A student must train for an advanced degree in the same way a runner must train for a long road-race. Not only do I have to cultivate mental endurance, I need to find the tools necessary to support my training. A seasoned runner understands the importance of a training schedule, but also of the correct shoes, adequate rest, and proper hydration.
I made the novice mistake of believing that a B.A. and an M.A. are the only prerequisites to the granting of a Ph.D. While my previous schooling set the stage for further graduate study, I underestimated the fact that the first years of the program are indeed still training. I thought the prep-work was complete; I was wearing my well-worn sneakers and ready to cross the finish line on day one. I eagerly anticipated exploring primary sources and thought ceaselessly about the questions that might define my own research. But as I try to catch my breath after Hegel, Marx, and Weber, I’ve come to find out that I’m not quite as fit as I thought.
I have a choice: I can say that the course looks too hard and I don’t have what it takes to tackle such large hills and high winds, or I can commit to the next four-years with the intensity essential to not only tackle the hills, but to cross the finish line at a sprint. My biggest obstacle will be putting my long runs into perspective. I must dash through Hegelian philosophy and Marxist theory because the intellectual exercise will help me one day finish the race. Here’s to my steady (and hopefully injury-free) scholarly marathon!