2.2 Finding the Write Path
When we enter graduate school, we tell each other why we are there: what we wish to research, what brings us back to school. It is fair to say we each enter grad school wanting something besides the pursuit of pure knowledge: to gain credentials, to gain direction, to become a professor, to work on projects we choose ourselves. But how do we translate these goals into a reality on graduation, and is that even possible? Having finished my degree, I sleep better and longer, spend far more quality time with friends and family, and even have time to pursue outside projects and hobbies. But have I accomplished what I set out to do when I began my degree?
Prior to entering graduate school I was working in a field that provided neither motivation nor desired direction. This is not to say the time spent in my previous career was wasted; I learned tremendously valuable lessons and skills I use daily. It did not, however, allow me to do what I wanted: to write. I returned to school with this specific goal in mind, to finish my graduate degree and start on a career path which would allow me to use the skills I knew I possessed in a fashion both challenging and exciting.
I finished my MA in the spring of 2011. At the time, I was also working for the provincial government in Edmonton on a full-time basis. I knew I would soon relocate to another city, where I would transfer my position to one in an equivalent office. But my real work, looking for the career that would permit me to write on a daily basis, the one that would challenge me, began once my move was complete. I knew I was not ready to pursue a doctorate or an academic career and turned to leveraging my newly earned degree into a career in government or private industry. I was tired of being a poor student, and was ready to be ushered into the (hopefully) comfortable world of the gainfully employed.
Graduating with an MA is an interesting predicament, and finishing graduate school with a degree in comparative literature even more so. In the world of universities and colleges, the value of a graduate degree is an institutional pillar, and our discipline is part of the known landscape. Outside this realm, our degrees rarely translate easily into a specific job title, as a degree from a professional faculty does. However, we finish our degrees with highly desirable, finely honed skills: we know how to research, we know how to work hard, and we know how to think critically. And perhaps, most importantly, we know the immense value and power words possess, and have the ability to use them to translate our qualifications into terms recognized and valued by potential employers.
Moving from graduate school into the work force is a work of self-translation more than self-transformation. We know who we are, and what our capabilities are, perhaps more clearly than ever before in our lives. What we must do is translate our abilities from one “genre” into another, emphasizing how our accomplishments in graduate school, in the humanities, are directly transferable to working in an industry that may consider the study of literature and literary forms trifling or useless. For me, the process of finding work became an exercise in diligence and shameless self-marketing. Creating an effective CV and cover letter takes a staggering amount of time, as one ideally tailors both for each submission. Preparing applications and preparing for interviews became a second job, and I worked at it each and every day.
So after several months, I applied for and was interviewed for my current position. I know that my career search was a short one – I started my new job early in August – and also know that this means I am incredibly lucky. While my goal was to find work in either government or private industry I have found myself back at another university, and instead of working as an academic, I work to support the executive administration, writing and editing both correspondence and speeches. My job allows me to do professionally what I have always wanted to do, grow and develop into a new style of writing, use my research skills, and write every day.
I would encourage anyone finishing their degree to take a moment and remember why it is they started this journey and unhesitatingly pursue that goal. I wanted to write for a living: while I didn’t know exactly what that looked like when I entered graduate school, my M.A. experience gave me the requisite skills to make words my stock in trade. We always want to lead perfectly planned lives, while the world around us requires us to live prepared lives. I planned to be a writer in the government or private industry; I have ended up as a writer in the academic world. Perhaps you have plans for academia, but life is handing you opportunities in government or private industry. Graduate school prepares us for a number of career avenues; rather than preparing a firm plan, give yourself the flexibility of planning to be prepared for what comes.
Mary Kupchenko completed her MA Comparative Literature at the University of Alberta in 2011. Her academic interests focus on questions of identity and translation in author-translated works. She is currently exploring the world of business writing and strategic communications.