managing expectations.

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.

Advertisements

farewell, Manchester.

I’ve been putting off writing this post because I know there is no way that a few paragraphs will be able to encompass everything I want to say about my year living in Manchester.

I came to this city looking for absolution, or at the very least something that would give my life meaning once again. Whether that something would be football or my master’s program I really didn’t know or care — all I wanted was a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Have I found it? Not really, but I don’t say that negatively. Over the course of the past year, I’ve learned there is no one thing that will make my life worth living. The older I get, the more I start to understand that I have to look inward for that purpose, that motivation, that meaning. I have to believe not only that there is a reason for me to get up in the morning, but that the uncertainty and the doubt that often plague me are okay.

Continue reading

the dissertation breakdown.

A lot of people have asked what my dissertation is on. I’ve decided I might as well give an idea here. Rather than procrastinating, the more I talk about my dissertation, the more it actually helps me to sort through a minefield of research and concepts to create a clearer outline. I reckon in that sense, this post is actually a bit selfish!

Continue reading

anthropology: the drug.

This week marks another milestone in my master’s program: the last week of classes. One class ended last week with a series of presentations, but for the other 3, this will be the last time I meet in a class setting for my master’s degree. Tomorrow, in particular, is the last time we meet in a core class that everyone in my course is required to take, so it’s like the last hurrah: the last time we all come together to learn.

Continue reading

second term in full swing.

It’s been over 5 months now, so not only am I almost halfway into the second semester, but I’m also almost halfway through my year-long master’s program here at the University of Manchester.

I haven’t done the best job documenting my time here, preferring to tweet inane comments about the weather, about football, about drinking cheap Pinot Grigio by the bottle. It’s hard for me to believe that by this time in Brighton, I was preparing to leave in a month, whereas in Manchester I still have so much to do.

Continue reading

why anthropology?

They say “start as you mean to go on.” An apt phrase for the start of a new year, but never quite accurate. After all, don’t many of us spend New Year’s Day hungover and eating all manner of bad food? Therefore, I find it best not to attach too much significance to the date. As I said in my last post, I don’t make resolutions. In the past, I’ve thought of the academic year more than the calendar year, and I prefer to use my birthday (31 October) to think of what I’ve “accomplished” in the intervening months.

That’s not to say there isn’t some value to setting a beginning and an end to a year using the traditional calendar year. Even people who have no intention of keeping a New Year’s resolution make them. It can be symbolic, or at least a starting off point. With that in mind, I do plan to do my best to make 2012 a memorable one.

Most of this year will revolve around obtaining my master’s degree, and that is where I’d like to focus this post. Ever since I decided I wanted to study anthropology, I’ve gotten a lot of mixed responses, mostly confused and/or blank expressions. What is anthropology, and why am I studying it?

Continue reading