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Hello all, 

I've gotten myself into a bit of a bind, and I could use some advice. 

My name is Patrick. I'm a 23-year-old, underemployed, miserable gas station attendant. I graduated with distinction in history and archaeology from the University of Virginia in 2017. I barely remember how I got to this point, but I know I'm unhappy with how things have turned out. 

Following several months of post-graduation unemployment, during which time I had lived as a homeless freegan in Maine, I took a job as a history teacher at a shamelessly fraudulent for-profit private school chain called Fusion Academy in Washington, DC. I survived for a few months, but couldn't stand its toxic work environment and resigned in disgust. I then fled my parents' house in Fairfax, VA, for the cornfields of Urbana-Champaign, IL, armed with nothing but a couple thousand dollars in savings and the vague, tentative plan of establishing Illinois residency for in-state tuition purposes before matriculating into their Library and Information Science masters program. In the meantime, needing to pay rent and unable to find meaningful employment with my BA, I have found myself cleaning up vomit at a Circle K a block from my apartment. 

Here's the thing. I'm having trouble figuring out what exactly my options are for grad school, now that I'm here. For the longest time, I had wanted to pursue a PhD in history, but fulfilling that dream seemed like an increasingly remote possibility when one considers the collapse of my undergraduate honors thesis for mental health reasons, my distaste for teaching, and the larger employment crisis in academia. Failing that, a Masters in LIS seemed like a logical alternative, given my well-documented bibliophilia(/-mania?). That's why I'm in Illinois now, after all. 

As I learn more, though, I'm pretty sure I could get into the LIS masters at UIUC, the top-ranked in its field in North America, without breaking much of a sweat. They don't even require the GRE. Part of me wonders if getting the LIS rather than a PhD amounts to selling myself short. Part of me wonders if it makes more sense to sell out and get an MBA like all the bootlicking quasi-fascist turdnuggets I went to undergrad with.

I earned an undergraduate GPA of 3.78 overall. I don't know my major GPA, but I suppose I could calculate it if pressed. I scored 169 V, 155 Q, and 5.5 AW on the GRE. I'm pretty sure I have (had?) killer recommendation letters, as I held prestigious research assistant positions during undergrad and won a competitive undergraduate research grant to support that thesis I didn't end up finishing for mental health reasons. But my work history since graduation is spotty. Like I said, several months of unemployment, during which time I lived as a homeless freegan in Maine, followed by my stint at Fusion, followed by several more months of unemployment, followed by Circle K. 

There's a ton of additional complicating factors. I'm happy to answer any questions readers might have. At the moment, I just need guidance from someone who understands the graduate admissions process. 

 

Edited by Zaheersboi

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I would ask, in general, what your goals are.  It seems that you've been somewhat directionless since graduation, which is fine -- you're young!  It's okay! -- but a graduate degree is a longterm relationship.  What are you hoping to get out of it?  Where do you want to be when it's over?  If you go PhD, what are you wanting to research?  If you're going LIS, what are you wanting to do with that (since people with library degrees actually becoming librarians is getting fewer and further in between)?

I would say that your first step is some soul searching, and getting a better job.  The better job will give you the freedom to go to graduate school because you want to, not because you have to escape your current situation.  It will also give you the financial resources to apply (it's expensive!), and to afford to go, since I doubt your MA or MLIS would be funded.  Ideally, it would also give you educational benefits - if you get even an entry-level job at a big enough company, you may very well be able to pursue graduate school on their dime.

I find that a lot of times in my life when I've been unhappy with my life/job, it's more because I'm unhappy with who I am as a person, not necessarily the situation.  It might be worth meditating on whether or not you're happy in your own skin.  I call this "Life broken, add more schooling!"  Having been there, I don't recommend it.

 

I know this isn't the answer you wanted, and I'm sorry for being the rainy cloud on your parade.

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That's just it. I feel pulled in many different directions. What I need is help in evaluating my options. I guess a good place to start would be, "What is the likelihood that I could get into a top PhD program, given what I've explained?"

In response to your question, my specific interests sit at the intersection of early modern colonial expansion in the Americas and queer theory. Personally, my goal is to be able to afford to survive at a subsistence level. If I were to get a PhD, I'd probably want to specialize in the aforementioned areas. If I were to get an LIS, I'd want my coursework to bridge the divide between archival studies and community librarianship: how does one best go about bringing historical and political awareness to the masses in the service of an emancipatory intersectional agenda? One of my faculty advisors suggested getting a masters before applying to PhD programs to offset the collapse of my undergraduate thesis. That way, I could show the admissions folx that I am actually capable of producing a polished research product. I think her suggestion has merit, but I'm worried that I'm doing myself a disservice by not aiming as high as I can, now. 

 

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You've clearly thought a lot about what you are interested in, but what's the actual job you envision yourself having? Personally, I feel it's best to think about the end point and see what path I need to get there. What you're explaining as a career interest is more philosophical rather than tangible. The degree, regardless of what it is (doctorate or masters, field of study, etc.), is a means to an end. So what's the ideal end game?

Also, you can always apply to both PhD and MA programs. If you get into a PhD right off the bat, cool. If not, you have the MA as a potential option. 

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I guess a good place to start would be, "What is the likelihood that I could get into a top PhD program, given what I've explained?"

I actually don't think that's the salient question here. I think the real questions are"What do you want to do with your life? When you think about what kind of career you want to have, what do you see yourself doing?" As Hk328 says - it's great that you've identified your scholarly interests, but at the end of the day, what kind of work do you want to do?

Graduate study is a means to an end. You get a PhD because you want some kind of career doing research, scholarship, and/or teaching. Sure, hopefully you enjoy the journey somewhat, but it doesn't make very much sense these days to get a PhD just because without any sort of focus on the end result. Similarly, you'd get an MLIS because you want to be a librarian, or some other job that requires or benefits from an MLIS.

In your post, you've talked a lot about what you want to study and your desire to get a graduate degree in general, but you've also mentioned that you don't like the duties that come along with the main career path that a doctoral degree in history prepares you for. Lots of people like books, but liking books alone isn't a good reason to become a librarian. I have a friend who is an academic librarian and has also worked at public libraries, and there's a lot of dealing with the public; librarians (especially academic ones) also teach classes and do private consultations with students and other people conducting research. Have you ever volunteered in a library or maybe done an informational interview with a librarian?

As you say, you could probably get into an MLIS program, and probably even a PhD program. Your GRE scores are very high; you have research experience and good recommendations from past professors. The non-completion of the undergrad thesis doesn't have to be a blocking factor, if you have a good supplemental essay explaining the circumstances and perhaps a strong supporting letter from a professor familiar with your history. If you have a good polished early chapter from that thesis, that could be a good writing sample. Your employment history will be meaningless to graduate programs.

But that's not the real question; you shouldn't attend a PhD program just because you can get in. Getting a master's is not "selling yourself short," particularly if a master's is the actual required degree for the job you want to do. In fact, it doesn't make sense to spend the time getting a PhD if the job/career that you want requires a master's and doesn't much care if you have a PhD.

Also...I can't resist, but getting an MBA doesn't make you a sellout or a bootlicker. After getting a PhD in public health and doing HIV research with low-income populations, I currently work in private, for-profit corporate industry. It looks like the definition of Selling Out from the outside (and have been rudely asked by multiple people if I made the switch because of the money). But I do research on increasing the diversity and accessibility of our products and services - I want to help make our games and services accessible and fun for everyone, not the narrow group of people that we once served. There's a lot of good to be done in business and private industry, if one is interested in that sort of thing.

 

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