For the past ten or so months, I have been in a panic. A sort of existential crisis, filled with questions about what the hell to do next. Which, to be entirely honest, was a very privileged and stupid problem. I’ve wanted to do basically the same thing since I was 16: work in a large and well funded institution that protected visual materials like a museum or archive.
I’ve worked towards that, pretty single mindedly. So when, all of sudden I was faced with the idea of grad school in a few different ways, I freaked out. Since I have a really tight academic interest: preserving and researching late 19th century photography, I felt like a good candidate to apply for a PhD.
I knew of a topic I could write on: women’s work in preserving records of people through photograph albums. I started doing the research.
In that moment, I realized how much I hated academia. I hated when I was at Wellesley and struggling with the uselessness of these esoteric articles whose knowledge was not getting to the average person. In that, I realized the Ivory Tower was not for me. I want to make materials and knowledge available to interested people, not write the books and manuscripts.
So, I ended up applying for two programs in Library and Information Sciences. While not funded, it’s more my own interests. I’ve applied to most of the scholarships for which I qualify, since there’s really not any money out there for archives.
For the first time, there is stillness. Applications are sent in, so I just wait now. My whole life has been a series of running towards different goals, as a way to impose structure on a disorganized and frequently bored mind. So, I’m now faced with a non-problem: what to do with 8 months of pre-grad school intellectual freedom?
This becomes an actual problem when faced with the idea of a new Presidency full of uninformed bigots. The allure of cutting back my work hours to go protest every little thing is strong. Yet, something else has stuck with me: existing how I am is in fact resistance that is far more sustainable.
Having tossed out the idea, I am left with a purring motor with no obvious place to go. I asked around, and a lot of people didn’t seem to have considered how to prep for grad school much. A lot of people had advice about what they had wished they had done.
I took this list of regrets and then considered my own career. Archivists are an inherently political people as they decide and codify records. They decide what gets protected, what gets thrown away and what gets promoted online for researchers to access. This means they are shaping history, and how we understand our countries and towns both today and in the future. To this end, there is almost a moral imperative to be as educated not only in photographic history but also archival theory, ethics and social justice theory.
With that in mind, balancing this multitude of demands including my own mental health, I made a list. Maybe it will be of help to others pursuing archives or museum studies.
- I will be reading a lot of academic articles: half will be on my subject area and the other half will be foundational texts in the field. I will create summaries in my Google Drive to reference for classes and papers.
- I will think long and hard about what exactly I want and need from my selected program
- I will create a list of places I want to work at, and fellowships after graduation with an eye towards
materials of the average person.
- I will spend at least 20 hours trying some basic coding in order to handle the tech side of the field
- I will save as much money as I can before I start grad school, but not to the point of burning myself ou
- I will research job opportunities at where I end up
- I will negotiate financial aid
- I will knit myself some cozy things for crappy days and long nights
- I will try to train for a half marathon. Not sure if that’s my new fitness goal, but I have enjoyed running again
Everyone’s life is different, but the thought process of “WTH NOW?” was very informative and reflective for me. I encourage anyone pursuing grad school to do the same.