The Vanity of Graduate Applications

A few weeks ago, I graduated with my MA, and I’m now confronted with the question of “what next?”

December 11, 2012

A few weeks ago, I graduated with my MA, and I’m now confronted with the question of “what next?”

I didn’t go to graduate school to carry on to Doctoral work; I just thought the program looked interesting and that it would be a good idea to have a graduate degree if I was going to advise graduate students. I love my job.  I have no interest in leaving it, but I also absolutely love academic scholarship. To be honest, I find the idea of getting a Ph.D. positively decadent. To have all that time devoted to an area of research I’ve discovered a passion for? What an unimaginable luxury. Particularly to be able to do such a thing full-time, to not have to feel guilty for either not putting in overtime at work in September, or to doing laundry or grocery shopping instead of polishing another essay draft evenings and weekends.

There are countless numbers of people who do not do a Ph.D. on a “straight” trajectory: age eighteen graduate high school, age twenty-two graduate with Bachelors, age twenty-three or twenty-four, graduate with an MA, by age thirty complete a Doctorate. In fact, I imagine people who do that are in the distinct minority. I am thirty-seven. I have a mortgage, and an aging Father, a full-time job and a partner that could not come with me to another city.

But I also want to know. Could I get in? Could I be accepted into a Doctoral program? Could I find someone interested in working with me on a research project that I propose? Someone who has never heard of me before, but is impressed with my writing and ideas and achievement-to-date? Am I worthy of receiving a portion of their hard-earned research funding.

This is a slippery slope: putting in the time to apply when I don’t know if I could actually accept it. Because once you apply, your mindset switches. Suddenly, I will really want it. And what if they reject me? What if no one wants to work with me? Or even more alarming: what if they accept me? Then what would I do?

Sell my condo? Quit my job? Trust my brother to look in on my father? Expect my partner to wait for me?

Or perhaps I will decline. Perhaps I will simply be gratified that I was accepted. My ego will be placated, yet I’ll be unable to leave the province to pursue this vanity. Will I find peace merely with the acceptance? Or will I look back on my decision with regret, angry with myself for not seizing the opportunity when it happened?

I fear the guilt of simply applying will overwhelm me, because, full disclosure: I have in fact started the process. I have asked some wonderfully supportive faculty members to provide me with references. I have written a research proposal, and already received feedback from one of my referees on how to improve it, and advice on where else I should consider applying. I have contacted potential supervisors at other institutions and asked for guidance on the application process from program coordinators.

No woman is an island. Applying for graduate school takes a team, and all three of my referees have offered assistance beyond simply writing me a letter. Is it fair to do this to them if I am not even certain I can take up a potential offer? Is it fair to force graduate program committees to evaluate an application that might not even be serious?

I know just how much work is involved in the evaluation of a potential applicant, the time it takes to review credentials, and consider funding, and commit to supervision, the consideration that is taken away from another applicant who is applying unreservedly. Is this a selfish endeavour?

Yes, I can only conclude that it is indeed selfish. However, I am not sure if selfish necessarily equates to “bad.” Do I have the right to know what all my options are? Do I owe it to myself to figure out just how important this really is to me? Or am I just wasting a lot of people’s time and energy; two very precious resources that shouldn’t be taken advantage of? I honestly don’t know how to answer these questions. I could argue it either way. In between though, I‘ll be updating my research proposal.

Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada

Deanna England is a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.


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