I know I said in this thread that I'd post a landmark-type commemoration that weekend, because I was too busy to do so at that moment. As it turns out, I was busy for a little bit longer than that. I figure the best way to approach this landmark post is to fill y'all in on what I've been doing that's kept me so busy, which will quickly devolve into story-time (I've been thinking about this for quite a while, in case you couldn't tell...).
I think I mentioned that I was studying for my comprehensive exams (hereafter "comps") when I posted on the 26th - which is a completely true statement. No, wait. Let me back up a bit. I am currently in a Masters' program in Classical Philology at the University of Arizona, and I think this is the terminal MA program with the most hurdles for a graduate student to jump. Most programs only require exams or a thesis - we have to do both. And lots of exams. I passed my Modern and Ancient language qualifiers last year, and so evidently I was then "qualified" to take my comps. The comps cover pretty much everything - Greek lit, Roman lit and a thousand years of Greek and Roman history (three exams). These exams normally take place during the sixth week of the semester - or the 27-29 of September. Because of these exams, I was essentially living at the library, reading old dusty tomes which no one had touched for ages. I do mean that literally, as the amount of dust I had to brush off the tops of some of those books was ridiculous. I started hauling my computer everywhere so I'd have access to my articles and outlines while I was not at home, and I essentially avoided human contact for the three weeks immediately before the exams. Oh, and I had to perform in my regularly-scheduled classes as well.
It was during this stressful time that I often asked myself why, exactly, I was doing the whole grad school thing. I came up with a couple reasons, the first of which being my first high school guidance counselor. I think I told this story before, but it bears repeating in this context. I took the PSATs as a sophomore (as a sophomore, they don't count for National Merit Scholarships; it's more like a practice), and scored a 198. The results had to be picked up from the guidance counselors, so that they could "keep watch" and "guide" their students, and so that the students would actually have to meet with their guidance counselors. Mine (I forget his name) was an older man, probably late 50s (though I've put him far out of my memory), and very old-fashioned. He took a look at my score and said, "This is a pretty good score. I don't know what you plan on doing with it, since women have no place in higher education, but good job anyway." This is stuck in my craw for the longest time - all through the rest of high school, my undergrad and up through to now. I've wanted to prove this beast of a man wrong, even if he'll never know my accomplishments. I'm more afraid that this mindset is common to older guidance counselors, and I really want to demonstrate that they're wrong.
The other reason I'm here is my paternal grandfather. He passed away some years ago, well before I started my college, IIRC. I was the eldest grandchild on that side (eldest daughter of the eldest son), so Grandpa and I bonded quite well. While it wasn't him who got me interested in the Classics (I rest the blame solely on my maternal grandmother), it was Grandpa who gave me the drive - and the plan. Grandpa was a yearly contributor to the US Olympic team, something like $20 a year, and they would send pins and bumper stickers and all sorts of random (cheap) paraphernalia. Grandpa had no use for such things, and gave them to me (my favourite item is still the "Support the 1980 US Summer Olympic Team" bumper sticker). When we discovered that the 2004 Olympics would be in Athens, we counted the years and figured that that would be my junior year of college and the perfect time to study abroad - in Athens, of course. It was later that year that he gave me my own stamp collecting kit, so as to serve as a foil for his own. He was instrumental in my college decision, mostly because he helped my parents brainwash me into the Wisconsin cult. It was, however, in the post-undergrad decision that he left the most lasting effect. He encouraged me to dream. He was the one who (finally) convinced me that the world is, in fact, my oyster and I can do whatever I want. He encouraged me to think outside the borders of the US, to consider world travel and study - primarily through the souvenirs he and Grandma brought back from their many travels, but also in several heart-to-heart conversations over a game of dominoes. He gave me the desire to live in and learn from the world.
I think those two men, different though they may have been, are the primary reasons why I'm even bothering to attempt this whole "graduate school" thing. Why I chose this subject matter is a different story altogether, but those comps made me question my base motivations for why I wanted to keep going with school at all and not just get a job or pursue a path that would actually earn money, such as law or drug trafficking. Now that I think about it, perhaps that is the purpose of these ridiculous comps - not to make sure that the student knows everything about everything, but to make the student question their motivations and actually conclude that s/he wants to be studying Classics and wants to be in a rigorous program and can handle it. Even if that's not any sort of purpose for the exams, that's what I got out of the experience.
The mention of law as a possible career choice brings me to my next aetiology (to use a word with which I have become overly familiar...): why I'm doing Classics, of all things. I pondered this while agonizing over the return of my exam scores - and realizing that my checkbook balance was approaching a very low number way too fast. Why was I not doing something that would actually earn money? Obviously, I love everything ancient Greek, but I had to wonder if that couldn't be an affectation, or if it could be applied somewhere else. I had to confront this question a few years ago, when I was in the process of giving up a Math major to become a Classics major in my undergrad. My father thought that I should maintain the math as a "marketable skill," and that nothing could ever come from an undergrad degree in Classics, except a very narrow road that very few people can walk. I suppose I can blame my father, then, for my obstinate clinging to Classics as my career path. Fitting, really, as it was his father who convinced me to go to grad school in the first place. Why did I love Classics so much that I gave up something more "marketable"? As I mentioned above, it was my maternal grandmother. When I was eight, she sent along one of those Reader's Digest books - those fancy ones with the semi-accurate and over-stylized information and pretty, glossy pictures. This one was Greece and Rome, and it caught my attention immediately. I stole the book and pored over it for days on end. I tried to learn everything in it, from the Greek alphabet to the dramatized details of Alexander's campaign in Egypt to the life and times of Caesar Augustus. I kept that book for years, opening it up and entering a whole other world, long dead, but rich in ideas and imagination. I think I most appreciated how gosh darn smart those ancient guys were. I never got to learn any sort of mythology in school, excepting the one failed attempt to read a paraphrased prose translation of a selection of the Odyssey in ninth grade. When I got to college and suddenly had the opportunity to explore the worlds that had for so long been only in that one book, I had to take the chance. When I realized I really loved these worlds, I became part of their tradition and permanently left behind all my other options. I joke around these days and say that if this whole "Classics thing" doesn't work out, I'll fall back on either being a sportswriter or a lawyer - but the truth of the matter is, I can't imagine being anything else but a Classicist. As much as I love football, there's a finite limit to it. Classics is, quite literally, infinite.
The past week and half, the time between taking the comps and receiving the results, was one of clarification for me - and, well, of midterms, but we'll leave that aside (stupid Lucretius!). I realized that I really love where I am right now (inasmuch as education and planning for the future - I hate living in a desert!) - and that I wouldn't trade it for the world. When I got my results last night, it was validation. While I only high passed (got over a 90%) on one of my three exams, I passed all of them and became the only philology student in the department to be ready to write a thesis. In one of the greatest of all ironies, the exam I high-passed was my Roman literature one. The irony is that I only started doing Latin two years ago. Oh, and I really dislike the language. I blame Menander for my not high-passing my Greek one.
So that's where I am right now: ready to write my thesis next semester... and ready to apply to PhD programs within the next month. I suppose that'll be a nerve-wracking time for me as well, but I already know what my writing sample is going to be and I've got my (sparse) CV mostly worked-out and ready to go, and I can get professors to write letters of recommendation for me, so the actual process won't be that difficult. I hope. To be perfectly honest, I'm just glad to have moved out of the library and to have started interacting with other people - and friends! - again. Oh, and I'm really glad I now have time to watch football and do homework and watch "Battlestar Galactica" again.
Thanks for listening.
Posted by ClaudiaTherese (Member # 923) on :
That was a fascinating read, Carrie. I think you are right about the purpose of comps.
Loved to read about your grandfather. And the thought of you clutching the book as a young'un -- -- congrats!
Posted by Eaquae Legit (Member # 3063) on :
Amen to that.
It's awesome to read this. I'm starting my MA now, and it's very encouraging to hear someone's success story. I honestly can't imagine being anything but a medievalist. And so I shall be. Thanks!
Posted by twinky (Member # 693) on :
I don't have anything constructive to add, just
Posted by Bob_Scopatz (Member # 1227) on :