home Features Confessions of a Graduate Student

Confessions of a Graduate Student

My name is Aisling Coleman, and I’m a graduate student… And one with a confession to make, at that: the more into the world of academia I delve, the more confuddled I become.

I graduated in October, and started my M.A. in English the month previous. I love English and the written word, I always have, and always will. I simply adore Plath, Poe and Yeats, and am far too fond of Shakespeare’s Scottish play to mention it in print. What I will say, on that note, though, is that even the mention of Dunsinane Hill is enough to make my heart swell…

But… academia.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a studious sort. I’d much rather (and much to my waistband’s chagrin) be up to my eyelashes any and every day in books and bibliographies, as opposed to being up to my falsies in messy, muddy, manual labour. Back in secondary school, anything graded below an A1 was a definitive failure, in my book. Cut to college, where 70% is a 1.1, or the nearest university equivalent to a secondary school A1. I don’t know about you, but receiving 70% on a script will never seem the same, nay, ever be the same, even, as achieving the haughty highs of a 90 – 100%, A1 grade. The third-level marking bands are something that I never have, and doubt that I ever will, get used to. Even a 70% 1.1 still feels, to me, like a bit-een of a kick in the molars.

Not that I’m managing many 1.1s, on the regular, unfortcho.

Maybe this is because I never know where to start, or what exactly to do, regarding my research, in terms of X, Y, and Z. The field of academia is such a vast one, whatever your chosen subject, that it’s difficult to figure out where to begin, or, even when you do figure this out, it can be a trial by fire as to where to jump to next. And, more’s the pity, there’s no magical, exact formula. You can’t, like back in the day, when in preparation for the Leaving Certificate, learn off four poets and their prescribed work inside-out, and – boom! – all-but-guaranteed A1.

No doubt that can only be a good thing. Learning topics and answers off by heart, without even the slightest of nods made to critical thinking is, undoubtedly, a stagnant way of learning. Plus, third-level universities certainly need to be held to higher standards than secondary-level schools. Maybe secondary schools, in their current incarnation, prepare pupils a tad shoddily for what comes afterwards. Perhaps there should be an obligatory ‘Mind the Gap’ induction lecture given to all the wide-eyed and bushy-tailed university first years. I’m not sure, really.

What I do know, though, is that sometimes I feel that if I were to draw a chart encompassing the topics covered on our M.A., that at times we start off at – to put this in terms of an alphabetical allegory – letter G. The basic tenets of an idea – to extend this alphabetical allegory – would, of course, begin at the starting point of letter A. So, to fully grasp an idea, learn about it, perhaps even to essay on it, it’s necessary to trace it back to point A. And, then, during the course of your research, to map out point A to point G, via B, C, D, E, and F. Oh, and then add in further reading, study and sometimes-sexy, sometimes-so-not-sexy secondary sources. Which, to elongate this allegory, in my instance, randomly seem to fall under the letters: L, O, R, V, T, X, U, and Y. If you’ve completely lost me at this stage, don’t worry. I’m not too far behind.

So, I’m never quite satisfied that I’m on the right path during my ardent attempts at academia.

Maybe that’s a key element within academia? The chase? The confusion? The figuring it out? Or, at least the trying to? Perhaps the fact that I’m critically aware enough to figure out how confused I am is proof that I’m maybe, perhaps, hopefully doing at least something right?

I might meet you at letter Z. Maybe, perhaps, hopefully.