Grad School, Then and Now, Part One

I don’t actually take any classes here, but the Wren building is one William and Mary’s more iconic edifices.

Eight years passed between the completion of my Master’s in 2010, and the beginning of my Ph.D. in 2018. During those eight years, I worked several different museum jobs and matured significantly as a person. I wasn’t the only one who changed, though. Graduate school has evolved a lot since I was last here, so today, I’d like to point out some of my observations.

  1. Technology: The prominence of technology in academia isn’t new. I used bibliographic programs like Zotero at Williams, communicated primarily through email, and distracted myself with stupid videos like this one. That said, there are some major differences. Systems like Blackboard, for instance, are used much more extensively than they were when I was last in grad school. At Williams, we bought hard-copy prints of articles and other readings for classes, all bound into one volume. These days, professors upload the readings online. I also used to print out hard copies of all my papers. These days, I email them. There are also lots of new writing tools out there, like Grammarly. I’ve been especially appreciative of this one, as it checks grammatical errors as well as spelling. It doesn’t catch everything, but it sure helps.

2. Mental Health: This is another huge change I’ve noticed. When I was at Williams, the most I remember about mental health was being shown the counseling building during an orientation tour. While I can’t speak for all campuses, William and Mary seems much more keen about assessing mental health by regularly offering workshops, counseling, and other resources. Although most of these activities focus on undergraduates, a few workshops do address graduate students specifically.

3. Student Voices: I don’t remember students talking very much about the stress of graduate school itself when I was at Williams. Admittedly I kept to myself, but from what I can remember, these discussions usually only occurred at parties or other social gatherings. These days, students seem much more frank about their experiences, whether it’s the coursework, teaching load, or stipends. And it’s not just at William and Mary. I follow quite a few Ph.D.-related accounts on Instagram, for instance, and they’re not afraid to confront the mental and emotional challenges of graduate work. That’s a good thing. As I’ve learned from personal experience, bottling things up doesn’t help anybody. If you want to change your circumstances, you have to be able to identify them.

4. Privilege Awareness: Being in an American Studies program, it’s not surprising that my cohorts and I spend a lot of time discussing how we challenge or reinforce the social, economic, and racial frameworks of American society. We rarely talked about this at Williams though. I don’t remember anyone remarking that we were almost exclusively white, or that our work focused primarily on white, Eurocentric artists (mine certainly did). I imagine that’s changed by now. At William and Mary it’s a perennial discussion topic.

Those are my main observations, and they’re definitely interconnected. Of course, academia still needs to be better at addressing mental health, racial and social homogeneity, and other issues, but the changes I’ve observed within the last eight years are encouraging.

One Reply to “Grad School, Then and Now, Part One”

  1. Sara, I wish you the very best in whatever you decide to do in furthering your valuable education.

    Thank you for your update.

    Virginia L.

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