Thinking About Grad School*? Don’t Go!
*That is, if you are thinking about entering a Ph.D. program in the humanities.
by Ella Dean* ‘00 (*Ella Dean is the author’s pen name)
Let me start by saying that if I had read this piece, over a decade ago, I would not have been convinced. In my naïve arrogance, I would have thought “But I’m better than her. I can do it.” And I would have been totally convinced of my superiority, my specialness, my intelligence. After all, wasn’t I Phi Beta Kappa at Wellesley? Hadn’t I written an Honors Thesis? Hadn’t a brilliant Wellesley professor told me, after reading said thesis, that I had to go to grad school because I was such an insightful, incisive writer? I was not unsupported in my delusion that I was special.
So for all of you special, brilliant women, please read my cautionary tale with empathy. I don’t want to be a cautionary tale—in fact, I hate it—but I would like someone, somewhere to learn from my mistakes. And going to grad school was probably the biggest mistake I made in my twenties—hell, in my life (in contrast, going to Wellesley was probably the best decision I made.)
I decided to go to grad school because I was bored on the job (working at a nonprofit, trying to make the world a better place) and because I missed school. I missed the intellectual conversations, the sense of working toward something, even the way time was organized at school. I missed the sense of community. I missed my brilliant Wellesley sisters. And I missed having my brilliance validated on a daily basis.
I applied and was accepted at multiple schools. Not only was I accepted, but also, at two schools, I was offered the top fellowship. Not the top fellowship for my department. No, the top fellowship for the entire graduate school, offered only to one or two very special students in the entire entering class. I went to the top school for my degree and got the top fellowship to support myself. How could I not feel validated in my choice to go to grad school?
Grad school was, in short, a grind. I worked really, really hard. I made a couple of good friends. But, compared to Wellesley, it sucked. It didn’t have the community (most people were older and/or had families) and frankly, I had better conversations with my Wellesley friends than I had in classes at grad school. I dreamt of Wellesley almost every night for two years. I missed it.
But I made the best of it and applied myself. I excelled in my coursework (ask any of my professors), I presented at multiple national conferences, I published several articles, including one in a peer-reviewed journal. I finished my Ph.D. in six years (that’s really good. Many people take 8-10 years to finish.) I did everything “right.”
Don't WorryZoë Keating
It’s very difficult for me to pick just one song to talk about from cellist and SLC alumna Zoë Keating’s album Into the Trees (2010), but I decided on the track Don’t Worry for a couple of reasons. First of all, it has a great story behind it - Don’t Worry was born, I believe, when Zoë was performing on tour with Imogen Heap and all of her equipment failed. Having to quickly come up with something, Don’t Worry is what emerged from her cello.
So I was very glad to see it show up in a studio version on Zoë’s latest album, Into the Trees. It has some of her pop and rock influences in it (she played with the cello rock group Rasputina for a while), while still delving into that ethereal layering effect. Also make sure to listen to the percussive sounds she makes with her cello.
Zoë came to perform for a Music Tuesday in the Spring semester of 2011, which was truly delightful, not just because her music is absolutely fantastic, but because you got to see how she used her laptop to sample herself and create this vivid soundscape that can at times sound like there are 40 cellos playing at once.
We currently have two of Zoë’s CDs in the Music Library: Into the Trees and One Cello x16: Natoma, so check them both out. You can also hear her on a great episode of WNYC’s Radiolab called Quantum Cello, in which Zoë describes and plays examples of how she creates her music.
“When I was younger, I was frustrated by not having a specific job in mind, let alone one that paid well. I knew what I liked and what I thought I was good at but I never had an exact vocation or position in mind. I slowly backed into situations that seemed right. Looking back at it, this turns out to have been a very rewarding path. By taking smaller steps in the direction of your interests you make more well informed decisions toward a goal that ends up fitting your changing personality, skill set, and current world situation.”— director Kevin Smith (BFA ‘78) on the value of a well-rounded education.
- Me: Why cant I just be confident enough to ask someone out? I am a Wellesley woman, damn it. I can do this
- Friend: If you have to pearl-up, then so be it. May the Wellesley force be with you.
- Me: I don't think even the force can help me in this dept.
- Friend: Did you just question the power of Wellesley? Am I hearing this? *reading. girl
- Me: More like I know myself. Wellesley can work miracles, but I don't know about this one. Maybe if I pray to our saint Hillary Clinton
- Friend: Channel the foooooooorceeee. Our lady of perpetual pantsuits