Grad School First Try

Ever since I was a junior in high school taking Advanced Placement US History, I knew what I wanted to be: I was going to be a history professor. I loved how our teacher showed us that what we’d learned to date in our history classes had been wrong, and I wanted to be able to share that love and exploration with future students.

As an undergrad, I took every US history class that my university offered. I loved them all. My favorite professor taught how we needed to perceive events through the eyes of the participants, which was possible by emerging yourself in primary documents. He opened up all new worlds of the discipline for me. I wanted to study much more in depth and learn everything there was to know.

While life intervened, and I didn’t immediately go from undergrad to grad school, the dream stayed very much alive, and two years after graduating with my BA, I walked into a PhD program.

Nothing in my life up to that point prepared me for what I was about to step in to. I didn’t know that different grad schools held different philosophical points of view. I chose my grad school based on location, thinking that history was history. Ummmm, no.

I walked into a graduate program in which to pass you had to write from a Marxist/Feminist perspective. It was openly stated and a point of pride from the faculty. Talk about a culture shock from my strangely conservative undergrad campus. Well, if you haven’t been able to tell from reading my blog, the grad school’s perspective was not my own. I was miserable.

Adding to my misery was the sheer size of the workload. In 10 weeks I read 50 books and wrote three 25-page papers. All I did was read and sleep.

I remember one Sunday in the middle of it all, I went to brunch with Hillary. I felt so bad that she kept catching me looking at my watch. I finally explained that I had been trained to view every hour as 65 pages read.

Well, I got through my first quarter and had a couple week break. As the new term began, I looked at the reading list: 75  books, and not a single one of them looked intriguing at all. After eight years of dreaming in being in my PhD program, I found myself in a nightmare that was going to last six more years and end up giving me only a one in four chance of getting a job, and if I was lucky enough to get hired, I would earn less than what I could get without the degree. Then again, none of that would have mattered if I loved what I was doing.

Although it meant being without the sense of direction I’d had for so long, I realized that I had tried my dream, it wasn’t what I thought it would be, and I would be much happier without it. Considering that taking big leaps was not something I did at that point of my life, it was a daring decision for Tammy back then. I’m still proud of myself for having the courage to walk away.

Have you ever had a dream that turned out to be nothing like reality? or What was your more courageous decision?

4 thoughts on “Grad School First Try”

  1. I can SO relate to this Tammy. I wanted to be (still do sometimes) an English teacher at the University level. All that reading, writing, talking about reading and writing and literature with kids who are paying to be there and not having the discipline/parents/extracurricular requirements (newspaper staff, yearbook staff, girls volleyball coach) of the public school system (where I’ve taught) – sounded ideal. And I love just being around and on a college campus. But alas – as you’ve so aptly pointed out here – too much time/work for a job that pays shamefully little.

    So yes, I’ve walked away from that dream many times over the years. Now I’m content to blog/write and blog/read. It’s still very rewarding and so enjoyable.


    1. Like you, the reason the university level sounded so appealing was because the students were paying to be there, which in theory meant they wanted to learn. And I wanted to be the one to teach them. Imagine getting paid to be smart!

      But unfortunately the dream is not like reality at all.

      (This is yet another thing that makes me think we are the same person or at least long lost siblings!)


  2. Oh my gosh! I have a dream of going to Graduate School, too. Only I don’t want to go all the way to a PhD. Sometimes I wonder if I would have the exact same experience ’cause there are times I think a business degree would service me better than a design/art one. Huh, guess I have my answer of what really is hell (for me) then. 😉


    1. Business graduate school was much better than history. Since I’d never even taken a business class before in my life but I had worked in HR for 9 years, it was really interesting to see all the theory behind the work that I’d been doing.


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