It’s no secret that I’m a little on the high-strung side when it comes to academics. I always have been.
It was quite a shock during my first semester of university to receive grades that weren’t As or high Bs. However, I thought that over the course of four years, I grew a thicker skin. I didn’t know a single person who graduated from my alma mater with a perfect 4.0 GPA. The extensive core curriculum required of all students regardless of major meant that everyone had to take courses in areas in which they weren’t very strong.
When I graduated with distinction and a fairly solid cumulative GPA, I felt quite pleased with myself. I made some mistakes over the years, but for the most part, I felt like I had done well. I still believe that I challenged and pushed myself. Moreover, I had fun. There is no doubt in my mind that my university is a wonderful place to get the full “college experience.”
That was then, and this is now. I’m not sure what I was expecting by going to graduate school in another country where the grading system is completely different. And now that the final piece of the puzzle is completed — my dissertation mark — I can look back on the entire year and think about my marks and about what I really got out of the program. I’ve asked myself so many times if I could have done better. And certainly the answer is yes, I could have: I could have worked harder; I could have paid more attention; I could have written better essays.
But then I sit back and think: wait a minute! I’m not giving myself enough credit. How many people go to graduate school to study a completely new subject to them? Not many. Social Anthropology was a risk, and maybe the risk didn’t completely pay off, but for once in my life, I took it. In the end, I didn’t do as well as I had hoped, but I shouldn’t feel completely unaccomplished, should I?
A lot of friends and family members were baffled when I told them I was going to school in the UK to study Social Anthropology. The usual reply was, “To study what?” And now that I’ve finished, I can’t say the replies are any more favourable. Recently, I met someone in a sports bar, and when I said I had my MA in Social Anthropology, he replied quite condescendingly, “What are you going to do with that? Teach anthropology?” I’m never quite sure what to say to people who ask me that. I received similar remarks when I told people I was a history major as an undergrad (ancient history at that!). It’s rude, and I don’t appreciate the sentiment behind it. But even more than that, I don’t like the implication that I somehow wasted my education studying something that doesn’t matter to anyone. Having said that, in the back of my mind, maybe I’m scared that I really did do it for nothing. Did I?
It’s about managing expectations — thinking about what I wanted to get out of it, and what I actually did get out of it. I left with research I really cared about, even if it didn’t get me the highest dissertation mark. I left a better person because now I understand my place in the world better than I ever have before. I left a little more humbled, which can never be a bad thing. And I’ve gained the kind of life experience that you can’t explain to someone who hasn’t done the hand-wringing and long nights of a master’s degree.
Is a PhD next? I don’t know. I really don’t. I am not sure if I’m capable of it, if I have the marks to do it. I’m not sure of a lot of things. But I can’t regret my choices so far — there’s too much at stake if I allow myself to. But having said that: we’ll see what the future holds for me.