Life After the Third Degree

Author: Mari Meyer, GSE, C’12

Just six months ago, I was writing about my strategic, if not artistic, return to studenthood. I have to admit, being a graduate student has had its perks: my family and friends foot the bill for brunches and lunches out of unadulterated pity; I can use my studies as an excuse to procrastinate in all other aspects of my life (i.e. vegetable eating, room cleaning, hair washing, etc.); I am assumed to be smarter and, in general, more important in the world despite my affinity for tabloid magazines, scrapbook making, and the unofficial, anthropological study of college kids.

Sorority pledges I spied on the Quad this week. Hard not to notice them!

My program at the Graduate School of Education lasts for only one year. That is to say: one academic year. Meaning, of course, two semesters. Which really means: a measly nine months. And I graduate in less than two! You may wonder, “How does one become a Master of anything in nine months?”

The answer is simple:  I take five classes each semester—with some of the most intelligent and accomplished professors and colleagues I’ve ever met—while working 20 hours a week at Sweeten Alumni House (and worrying about the project I oversee here an extra 10 hours on top of that).  When I’m not in class, or at the office, I am meeting with fellow grad students for group assignments that can span weeks, and because we all have schedules like this, our meetings do not even begin some evenings until 10 PM.  Of course, I spend most of my time reading, and writing papers, and reading some more. It is highly possible that I have read more in this program thus far than I did throughout four years of college. But I’m not talking about just any reading; I’m talking about the kind of reading that requires re-reading, often. The kind of reading that needs to be chewed like steak, that needs to be tasted and digested and metabolized —the kind of reading that you need to work through sentence by sentence, often with dictionary in hand.  I have never in my life felt more moved by and thus exhausted by what I’ve immersed myself in on paper. Oh, yes, and then the rest of the time I have to sleep, exercise, eat, and occasionally call my parents to thank them for giving me life

Thanks, Mom!

The real answer to the question, though, is that I don’t think one can become a true Master of anything in nine months. I often wonder if it is possible to become a Master of anything in an entire lifetime! But rather than thinking of this as a depressing concept, I find it incredibly exciting.  You know that feeling of letdown after a great vacation? You know the one, when everything you wanted to see you saw, everything you wanted to do you did, and then some.  The question of, “now what?” always creeps in, and you fall into that anticlimactic slump that leaves you right back where you started.  To become a Master implies a sort of end point, a kind of completion of a journey that in reality is, or at least ought to be, endless.

Who would have known that ten years later I’d be graduating with a third degree?

Though I have learned a tremendous amount—an infinite amount really—about the field within which I hope to find employment and the topics for which I am most passionate and committed personally, I am so thankful to know that I cannot know it all.  It is a relief, at least to me, that there will always be more to explore: more answers to find, more challenged to take on, and more paths to navigate without certainty of where they may lead.

My adventure working at an elephant refuge in Thailand in 2007.

Having said this, I am now back on the job market. And I am no fool. Being privileged enough to receive a Master of Science in Education from Penn will provide me with more opportunities that I could have ever imagined. It also instills in me a deep sense of gratitude and a responsibility for using this privilege and the learning that has come from it wisely, conscientiously, and justly. Will I feel like I have mastered my field by this coming May when I throw my hat in the air? Probably not—and maybe that’s just the hopeful “I’m a lifelong learner!” geek in me. And though there’s always a Ph.D, or an Ed.D, or some other buffet of degrees to dabble in if I start to get hungry for academia again—I have to admit, at least for now, that there’s nothing I look forward to more than reading mindless magazines and glitterizing unfinished scrapbooks all summer long instead!

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Filed under Academics, GSE, Mari M.

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