When I decided to attend grad school, I was told it would be completely different from undergraduate coursework. While this is true, I have discovered that I am more prepared for grad school than I thought.
This week I experienced what it is like to be a TA. Truth be told, it can be pretty boring. I am an extra set of eyes in the classroom for Dr. Davis, but do not get to lecture. I will have the opportunity in the future, but, having done the readings for the course, I have the urge to answer his questions. I realize the students must answer these questions, but I still have that urge as a student. I look forward to lecturing to a class of 110 (although only about 98 show up on a given day!) because it will be a new challenge and that is the purpose of graduate school, to further challenge the student. Several times this week, we have been told the beginning of grad school is the entry into the profession as a historian. While it is true, JMU views me as faculty, I do not feel like a professional historian yet. Perhaps writing a thesis will change that. Nevertheless, I still feel like a student, albeit and student with more responsibility!
My first week as a grad student went smoothly and without a hitch. I am going to have a good time in the seminar discussions with my fellow historians as well as my one course with undergrads. HIST 592 (American Material Culture) is a mix of grad and undergrad students. There are three grad students enrolled in the course and we have to attend class with the undergrads, but we have completely separate assignments, reading list, and meet with the professor for an extra hour a week.
My other two courses are in the evening. That is a new experience, but the seminar discussions are not. I feel I have had an advantage by attending a smaller university for my undergrad degree. The smaller class sizes at MSSU enable seminar discussions at the undergrad level. This goes against the German model of eduction in which undergraduates are lectured and graduate students attend seminars. I consider myself fortunate to have experienced seminar discussion in many of my upper division undergraduate courses.
The one major difference between undergrad and grad courses is the amount of reading and writing. For example, for my class on Monday, I have a week to read a 496 page book. I have finished the book, but only because I used a reading technique designed to help students find the main points quickly and move on. In order to find the author’s thesis, it is not necessary to read the book word for word and there is just not the time. That 496 page book would not be bad if it were the only assigned reading, but I do have other courses. Remember HIST 592? I do have to read a few journal articles for the undergraduate portion of that course in addition to the six assigned journal articles for the graduate portion. I consider HIST 592 to be two courses, the undergrad and the grad portions. I also have to keep up with the reading for my TA course. They had to read a book for Monday as well, which I have completed. And I have HIST 653 and HIST 671. I am enrolled in three courses, but theoretically have five. This is typical for a graduate student, however. The TA is necessary to pay the bills and the course work is necessary to complete the degree in the desired two years.
That being said, graduate school is not a bad place, in fact, is a great place to expand the mind, meet others with similar interests, and work with professionals in their fields. I am going to make the best of the short two years I will have at JMU and use this experience to prepare me for achieving my Ph.D. much like MSSU has prepared me for my Master’s. I had a great first week and am looking forward to the next thirteen (yes, JMU only has a fourteen week semester!!).
I will try to update my blog weekly and I think I will start to describe my courses individually next week. Until then…