16 June 2011

As personal as I'll ever get on this blog

I'm awake and amped up from yelling at a bunch of drunk people in the parking lot (seriously, I feel more and more like an old man every day -- "Darn kids, get off my lawn!"), so why not write another post? I think I'll hit my weekly quota tonight.

I don't plan on making this blog something that chronicles my personal life (I'll leave that to the wife), but there is one place where my faith and the rest of my life intersect more pointedly right now -- deciding what I'm supposed to do with my life. If you know me at all, you know that I'm not exactly tied to being a lawyer -- I went to law school because it was the default option for someone with a liberal arts degree who didn't want to pursue his other degree in music as a profession. By the time I realized that law isn't really what I want to be doing, I was at the point in law school where I figured that I might as well just finish the degree, even though it would result in even more student loan debt (yay!).

Now that I've been working as a "real" attorney for the better part of a year, my views haven't changed much. Granted, being a real attorney beats being in law school, but the fact remains that I just can't get that invested in my work. I also realize that most people probably feel that way about their jobs, but I'm getting to the point where I'm not sure that that's good enough for me.

So where does this leave me? Three higher education degrees and STILL nothing to show for it! What's the solution? Go back to school, of course! It's something that I've been kicking around in my brain for the past couple of years, but it's slowly starting to escalate in my mind -- so much so that I actually signed up to take the GRE in September, which is something I never thought I would do.

Now, we finally get to the point where this story intersects with the avowedly Catholic nature of this blog -- I really want to go back to school and get my Ph.D in Church History. As much as I love several areas and time periods of history, there's still nothing that fascinates me and moves me as much as the history of the Faith. Fortuitously, one of the only Catholic schools in the country that offers a specific degree in Church History (as opposed to a history program in which one can specialize in the history of the Church) is the Catholic University of America, which happens to be located very close by. I haven't done anything but read the information on their website yet, but from what I can tell, I think the program would be a good fit for me.

Ironically, the reason I didn't pursue history to begin with was that I didn't want to be limited to professorships. Now, I think it would be right up my alley. If only I had come to this conclusion five years ago, I could have saved myself the occasional agony of law school (not to mention the tens of thousands of dollars in debt). Alas.

Of course, in a vacuum, all of this sounds like a great plan...until I remember that I have a family to support. We've gotten by on just Rosie's salary in the past, and I suppose we could do it again, but it will get harder and harder as the kids get older (realistically speaking, John Paul would be 8 by the time I finish my degree) and as more of them come along. But, on the plus side, I wouldn't have to pay back my law school loans yet if I went back to school full time!

After I have this conversation with myself on pretty much a daily basis, I always console myself by remembering that this isn't something that has to happen right away. But in reality, it kind of is -- the longer I wait, the older the kids will be when I finish. We're also thinking very strongly about home-schooling, and I don't know how that would jive with (a) me being a full-time student and (b) Rosie needing to work full time because of (a). I keep trying not to make this about me versus the spiritual and educational well-being of my children, but I often fail in that regard.

So, long story short, I'll probably decide by this fall whether all of these plans are actually going to come to fruition any time soon. If you have any musings on any of the above topics, I'm all ears :-).

1 comment:

Julie F said...

There was a study a year or two ago that claimed that married men graduate faster than married women or single people of either sex; so there, you have an advantage already!

My three years of history grad school wisdom:

1. NEVER pay for a humanities PhD or MA with loans. If they want you, they'll pay you. If they offer a place without funding (4-5 years, guaranteed, is standard for PhD), call and ask if there's any chance you could get funding; some will invariably free up as they get rejections, drop outs, etc, and by asking you usually move up in the queue. I have at least one friend who got funded this way. Otherwise take the acceptance as a nice compliment and file the letter away.

2. Pace #1, my advisor really pushed me to take a research trip immediately after my first year and that has been priceless. Now I am convinced that you can't really figure out a dissertation until you've done some of the research on it already. If there is one thing it's worth scraping up your own money for, it's an early research trip.

3. Colleges and universities of all types want to hire people who can teach multiple intro classes. For example, the "Catholic Studies" prof at my school was hired because he could also teach US immigration history and US cultural history. Some PhD programs put more pressure on narrowly focusing yourself than others, but this DOES matter and it matters a lot, particularly in the current job market. It's worth thinking about and considering what other areas you are (or could be) "expert" on, and what wider appeal your dissertation could have.

4. To those to whom much has been given, more will be given. Funding/scholarships/etc are given out to people based on whether or not they're a good bet (to finish soon, to produce good work). This is another good reason to research early and often; if you have some research done already you can convince people that you're a good investment. There is a lot more money out there for finishing dissertations than starting them, in my experience.

5. Always remember, the goal of grad school is to get a degree and get a job. I don't think you're in danger of languishing in grad school, but I think of this also in the sense that grad school is not the time to try and save the world. You're not going to convince Professor Hippie that Marxism is wrong so why bother making enemies? Granted, I have chosen a topic that allows me to mostly sidestep the philosophical landmines and hide the fact that I am terribly intellectually unclean. You would be in a totally different situation. But I think it's helpful to keep things in perspective nonetheless. Besides, Catholics have an advantage in that we're not trying to use Foucault to Figure It All Out (THANK GOD).