A Collection of Thoughts

Grad School Isn’t Easy

Last week, at long last, I finished my first semester of graduate school. Everyone who I talked to said library school was easy—and I’m sure it is easy, compared to more rigorous Master’s and PhD programs. But for me, the first semester of library school was still immensely challenging.

I had removed myself from the extremely supportive environment of Fredericksburg, VA, where all my friends and family are, and moved to a completely new state. I bought a new car, because my old one was falling apart, and signed a lease on an apartment I’d never seen. I committed to tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt to help pay for my graduate program. And I did all of this while trying to work through the depths of my mental health problems—horrible anxiety and comorbid depression. I spent most days of my first month in North Carolina just hoping against hope that I could eat enough food to sustain me through a normal day of existence. As I was able to increase the dosage of my medication, the panic eventually began to subside.

At the same time, I slowly began to adjust to the workload of all of my classes. (Being who I am, especially with crippling anxiety, I couldn’t imagine not completing a reading for class, so I spent most of my free time reading for class.) As the semester progressed, papers, group assignments, and more piled on top of what already seemed like a heavy workload. (I also work 15 hours a week, which turns out to be closer to 20 hours with commute time in consideration.)

As I finally evened out on my medications and adjusted to workloads of class and work, I heard people in my program proclaiming that grad school was “so easy” and that they didn’t know what other people were stressing about. It was incredibly invalidating to me to hear my classmates speaking about how “easy” grad school was and how they had been misled into thinking that library school would be more difficult than it truly was. Especially because for me, the opposite was true—everyone had assured me that library school was very easy, that I’d have nothing to worry about, and that the workload of class and regular work would be manageable. However, in the depths of my anxiety, the workload of grad school felt anything but manageable. I’m incredibly grateful to be on the other side now, but I rue the fact that so many of my classmates felt that graduate school was easy and brushed it off so (seemingly) carelessly.

Perhaps it’s because I truly care about learning, which most people seem not to care about, or perhaps it’s because I truly care about doing well while pursuing higher eduation; or perhaps it’s because my anxiety doesn’t allow me to engage in education in a non-stressful way; or perhaps it’s because I’m just too sensitive. Whatever the case, I wholeheartedly reject the idea that graduate school—even library school—is easy, and instead I encourage my classmates to consider where everyone else might be coming from and how they can help support their classmates, especially if they find the challenges of graduate school to be easy.

Writing a Balancing Act

I’ve been bitten by the writing bug tonight—perhaps because I haven’t written in a while, perhaps because I’m reading so often now, or perhaps just because.

I’m now in week 6 of my graduate program in library and information science at UNC Chapel Hill, and it’s been a wild ride thus far. The first few weeks of my being here were characterized by severe anxiety and imposter syndrome, and more than anything, I wanted to go home to Fredericksburg. However, I took it one day (sometimes even one hour, one minute) at a time, and I’m feeling better about my program now. I’m still frustrated by aspects of it, and I absolutely still think that the larger system of graduate school is ultimately broken—but, I am feeling better.

The most difficult parts for me have been getting a good handle on what the workload is like and then figuring out how to balance that with the rest of my life—how could I possibly take breaks when I had SO much reading to do? It’s been a bit like drinking from a firehose, and I’ve had to adjust my normal tactics of working. I used to read books, articles, etc. the entire way through because I felt that if I didn’t, I would miss some crucial piece of information or argument. However, with a full graduate courseload and work, I don’t have the luxury of time on my side. I’m (slowly) learning how to speed-read and skim (I think of them as different things), and those “skills” have helped make my workload feel more manageable. I’ve also discovered that, even when I do feel overwhelmed by the amount of reading/work that I have to do, it’s often far more beneficial for me to take a break and step away from work for a little while. Sometimes that break means taking the entire evening off and having a glass of wine while watching a favorite TV show, and other times it means walking outside for a few minutes.

Much of my coursework this semester is theory-heavy and abstract, which has been its share of frustrating, especially for a hands-on field like archives. So, work at Duke is my respite, my saving grace. It is the one place where I feel like, without a shadow of a doubt, I know exactly what I am doing. I love what I am doing, and I love the people I work with. I recently crossed over the 1,000-record threshold for creating item-level metadata, which I celebrated with a few of my coworkers, and I can’t wait to celebrate future milestones with them. I’m incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to work at Duke and keep myself grounded as I work my way through graduate school.

The Mistaken Imposter

I moved to Carrboro, North Carolina, last weekend (August 3rd), and it was easily the most difficult move of my life. For the past 9—almost 10—years, I’d settled myself in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and built a life for myself there. Part of those 9 years was my 4-year undergraduate career, but I stayed in Fredericksburg afterwards, working at UMW (my alma mater) and various units at the Smithsonian in DC. I never, ever, imagined myself leaving Fredericksburg, let alone Virginia.

However, the time came for me to take a big step: my full-time job at UMW was ending, and I really needed an MLS degree to secure the kind of full-time, salaried, long-term career that I truly wanted. (I long to work in archives and special collections in a museum, archive, or other cultural heritage institution, and to do that, I need a graduate degree.) Deciding to leave Fredericksburg was one of the most difficult decisions of my life. I spent many days this spring sobbing at the thought of leaving the immensely supportive personal and professional network I had built, and I couldn’t imagine moving to another state without my network of friends and family.

Despite everything holding me back, UNC’s MSLS program really spoke to me, so I took a leap of faith and committed. My UNC classes start in one week, and my internship in Duke University Libraries’ archives and special collections begins tomorrow. I’m immensely grateful for these new opportunities to grow and develop professionally, but as I alluded to earlier, it hasn’t been easy. I spent the first few days here harboring the horrific feeling that I’d made a terrible mistake—that I shouldn’t have come to North Carolina, I shouldn’t ever have left Fredericksburg (let alone Virginia), and I certainly shouldn’t have left UMW or my friends and family. I spent hours on the phone sobbing to my friends as I replayed these fears over and over again, but I found no relief. In addition to “normal” anxiety, I became crippled by my imposter syndrome/inferiority complex: How on earth did I get into this MSLS program? How was I going to succeed in graduate school after being out of a classroom for so long? How on earth was I qualified for my internship with Duke University Libraries? How long would I last at Duke and in my program before everyone realized that I didn’t truly belong?

As more days have passed by, my anxiety and utter paralysis have slowly begun to subside. I’ve eaten 3 square meals for two days in a row now (trust me, this is a huge feat). I begin my internship at Duke tomorrow, and I’m becoming excited about it again. (I was excited when I first applied for, interviewed for, and accepted the position, but since then my anxiety has convinced me that I am not qualified for it.) I’m looking forward to meeting with my supervisors and starting to work on the project, especially because I know diving in head-first will help assuage my fears and re-establish my confidence. And I’m hoping that this confidence will carry forward into my first week of classes at UNC (and continue on from there).

Despite being utterly terrified of where I am in life right now, I am also incredibly grateful that I’ve been able to make it through the past week and out to the other side. I’m slowly getting used to Carrboro/Chapel Hill and my new living situation. As I become more confident in my physical location, I find that my mental location is improving as well—and for that, I am truly proud of myself. I’m so proud that as I go into my first day at Duke tomorrow, I don’t truly believe I’m an imposter anymore. Yes, I still have doubts here and there, but I also know that I have a wealth of experience and gave a knock-out interview. I must belong somewhere, right? And it might as well be between my classes at UNC and my internship at Duke. Either way, I’m extraordinarily proud of myself for coming this far and for overcoming so many fears and mental paralyses.

The Next Big Adventure

About five years ago I wrote a post detailing why I wasn’t going to graduate school—now, as it turns out, I am going to graduate school. For a long time, I hadn’t been thrilled with the idea. Why would I go to school to learn something I already knew how to do and knew that I was capable of doing? Recently, however, I found myself at a career and life crossroads where suddenly, graduate school was an exciting and appealing option.

I spent my winter applying to graduate programs in library science that had specializations in archives, special collections, and digital libraries/curation. After working several different post-undergraduate jobs in archives and museum collections, I realized that, despite my extensive experience, I was still lacking education and experience in some fundamental areas. I was honest in my applications about the gaps in my knowledge and how I wanted the program(s) to round out my knowledge and experience, truly setting me on a solid career path.

After much deliberation between several excellent MLIS/MSLS programs, I decided to accept my offer of admission at UNC Chapel Hill. They are ranked #1 internationally for library and information science, #1 for digital librarianship, and #3 for archives and preservation, so I’m entering an amazing program that will prepare me beyond measure for my future career. In addition to having great academic strength, UNC SILS has wonderful connections with local, regional, and national library and information science employers, so I will have a wealth of opportunities during and after my graduate education, right at my fingertips. I’m already taking advantage of SILS’ wonderful connections and hope to begin working in a local or regional archive during my first year in the MSLS program.

While making such a big move—I’ve never lived outside of Virginia—is a bit daunting, I’m mostly feeling incredibly excited. For a very, very long time I was reluctant (begrudgingly so) and scared to pursure this path, but now I cannot wait for all of the amazing opportunties to which graduate school will open the doors: meeting new people, new professors, new archivists, new friends, new jobs, and new places. I’m ready to crack open the books (and my laptop) and become a student again—and honestly, it feels amazing.

Escapril: Catharsis

I swallow up the entire month—
the past five months,
back to the beginning of December,
when I thought you cared—
in one big gulp.

You burn down my throat and into my intestines,
upsetting the balance of everything,
and I chase you with sweet, bubbly innocence.

As time goes by, you wash down more easily,
until I arrive at now.

Once again, you are just water,
diluting the past five months
into something palatable—
something that ends up cleansing me
of the burning acid you once were.

Escapril: Femininity

At first thought, femininity sounds rather dainty. Something pink, with a light, floral perfume, and most likely wearing pearls. Perhaps it’s the light sounds of the lifting i’s and soft t that bring such a dainty image to my mind.

But I think again, and femininity sounds brutal. It’s being subjected to stereotypes, many so similar to the one above. It’s being rejected and belittled if you don’t fit in to a clean “feminine” stereotype. It’s being forced to conform to someone else’s ideas of who you should be, what you should do, what you should look like, and how you should act. It’s fearing going out late at night alone. It’s being subjected to a lesser place in society, receiving less pay and respect than a man would. Having less privilege, because we are female.

And I think again, and femininity sounds strong. It’s strength and perseverance. It’s being able to somehow keep living in a world that belittles and undervalues you and tries to tell you what to do. And nevertheless, you persist. It takes strength to shoulder all of these burdens and continue.

I think one last time, and femininity sounds undefined. It is unique, idiosyncratic. There’s no one definition or explanation that can possibly encompass femininity, because nothing like that could ever include every single individual female on this earth, her background, her life, her dreams, her experiences, or her essence.

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