Kevin Nolan (AMU Class of 2013) writes in with some reflections for those who are considering graduate school. He speaks here about his experience in graduate school for Classics, but what he says has a more general application, too.
1. Age quod agis! To classicists, this saying may seem trite, but when actually applied, it becomes invaluable. You must do it in order to survive. There is no trick, there is no magic formula, there is only the difficult exercise of engaging one’s whole attention on a task for prolonged periods of time. It can be painful, especially when the text in question is less than stimulating, but it is the only way to excel in graduate school. The work load is heavy and the student must be efficient…which brings me to my next admonition.
2. Tolle, lege! A graduate student’s schedule is always demanding and he will frequently make the choice (a choice that often times feels like one of life or death): “Do I read the text or the secondary literature? How can I do both?” Prioritize. Many times you cannot do both, but, at this stage, improvement in the languages is more important than knowledge of scholarly work. Rule: text first, secondary literature only if you have time. Life is better when you’re able to read the languages with facility. Hone your skills. Deficiencies will soon be revealed…work on them.
3. Da operam! Take interest in whatever you are studying. Over the past year, I have developed a strong desire to study linguistics. However, I found myself in a course on Sparta in which we discussed anything but the linguistic aspect of the text. We read through the entire Life of Lycurgus, which takes someone of stout heart to work through that (in my opinion) laborious text. Being not particularly fond of the topics chosen, I struggled to find interest in class discussions and found the secondary literature rather dry. Yet, I began to realize that my time in graduate school is not about finding an area of interest and taking courses that pertain only to that. Graduate studies are meant to equip the student with the tools necessary to excel in any area of the Classics, whether it be the civil status of perioikoi or the use amens in Cicero’s Philippics. I realized that in order to be an excellent student of Classics I must be enthusiastic and devote my attention fully, regardless of the subject matter. To my surprise, however, after this change of heart, I found that Plutarch had a certain charm (his use of prepositions is most intriguing); I began to take interest in what I had previously considered mundane aspects of Spartan society; I even discovered some aspects that were very intriguing. For example, how the educational system in Sparta instilled virtue and love of valor in her citizens through competition and rivalry, which, as I have argued in a paper, culminated in the battle of Thermopylae. Some topics are boring, but the good student of Classics will approach all topics with zeal.
4. Pecuniam habeas! Funding is key. If you do not have a funding package that includes tuition and a living stipend, graduate school will be very difficult, but not impossible. If you do not even have a tuition waiver, do not go. Since I did not have a living stipend I was forced to find work, and fortunately did so as a teacher. First I taught Latin to preK-8th students. Now I am an adjunct professor at a seminary. Being forced to work, I found and took advantage of some excellent opportunities that I would not have otherwise. So, although working as a teacher and studying full time is very difficult, I really appreciate the opportunity both to study and to hone my skills as a teacher.
Thank you, Kevin!