Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: grad school is hard

Monday, August 15, 2011

grad school is hard

If you think coming to grad school means a straightforward path has been set before you, you're wrong. Pursuing your interest in grad school often creates more questions than answers and presents you with tasks that are as daunting as they are rewarding. Welcome to the maze of higher ed and pursuing your passion... 

When I was applying to Fordham, grad school seemed like an answer to my problems. I was tired of the 9 to 5 grind of full-time employment. I wanted more time to write and the freedom to work on my own projects. I missed the intellectual and creative community of college.

I couldn’t wait to be a student again. I figured the working world had been hard, and grad school would be easy. What could be more fulfilling and straightforward than studying what I had always had it in my heart to pursue?


While the labor of grad school will never be hard in the way many other types of labor in the working world can be, graduate study is challenging in its own respects. Grad school has pushed me intellectually, but also personally and emotionally. It has totally widened and complicated my vision of my life’s work in terms of art and scholarship.

The old cliché is true; I have found that the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. It has been transformative to come to know the meaning of this adage intimately. I have felt increased drive and a heightened sense of urgency about my work and writing, as I grasp how much more I must learn and improve.

Beyond the drive and urgency, I have also felt panic. How do we deal with the knowledge of how far we are from where we hope to be? How do we stay encouraged and exhilarated, rather than daunted and overwhelmed? In many ways, I feel as if I am on the first page of an incredibly long final paper and I cannot see the end – except in this analogy, the paper is my life.

For me, the dilemma manifests itself particularly in terms of my writing. While I celebrate the strides I have made as a writer at Fordham, I feel fear sometimes, as well as hopefulness. As I have grown at Fordham, the errors and deficiencies in my work, as well as the strengths and aptitudes, have come into clearer focus.

I am thankful that grad school gives me the time, space, and guidance to improve.  I am aware of the gift of such an opportunity, and yet I can’t help but have a "gulp" moment when I think of the immensity of the task set before me.


This summer I started working on a memoir as part of a graduate tutorial in the English Master’s program. I have been writing a coming of age story about cultural difference, identity, and belonging. I have stretched myself this summer, venturing beyond my usual genre of fiction.  It has been exciting to see memoir writing emerge as a viable way for me to work, but the memoir writing hasn’t gotten any easier. The better I get at it, the harder it is.

Again, I say:


The great surprise (and it really shouldn’t have been a surprise since I knew the old cliché) of grad school is that work has not become any easier or simpler since I began working full-time as a student in my field. But growth is never easy or simple, is it?

I was reminded of this as I completed my tutorial (in London, where there was plenty to keep me reflecting on questions of difference and belonging). As I wrote, I waded through the seeming formlessness of my own memories; I fumbled for a structure to impose on the narrative of my past. I wondered how to organize feelings and images that are contiguous to me emotionally but not chronologically.

I felt lost, but I was moving forward, one way or another. And when I managed to set aside feelings of panic and intimidation, I felt the thrill that comes from progress, however partial.

Grad school is dynamic and daunting precisely because of this paradox. As our understanding deepens and our vision expands, the tasks before us become more rigorous. The amount of work multiplies as we become more adept to do it. Nothing is easier, but everything is richer. The process of discovery is constant and without end.

So far, Fordham has not provided me with an answer to anything. My coursework and independent study have brought me instead to a series of exciting beginnings, which is more than I bargained for. This is a good thing. So no gulp moment.

Did you get more than you bargained for when you applied to grad school? Was there an interest you expected to pursue straightforwardly? Was it more difficult than you imagined it would be? Have you been intimidated or invigorated by the challenge?  

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