Dear Prudence today includes a back-and-forth between Prudie and a would-be grad student. Skim or for all I care do an explication de texte of the following:
Q. Corporate Career or Art Career?: I am in my mid-20s. I have been accepted in an extremely competitive theatre arts program in the U.K., 3,000 miles from my hometown, and had plans to start my MFA this coming fall. While it will cost me a lot, in both time and expense, I feel that it is a great opportunity and am excited to begin my future education. However, I had my yearly performance review with my boss last Friday and he has told me that he sees great potential for me within our company and wants to put me on the fast-track to management. We are not talking about managing a TCBY here. In a couple of years, I would be making about triple what I am currently making now. My dilemma is this: Do I stay, start a business career, and make more money, or do I go to grad school to pursue my artistic dreams but have no guarantee of being able to get a job in that field after graduation? I don't want to throw away a good opportunity, but it looks like I'm going to have to do so either way. My husband has said that he supports my decision either way and will follow me if I leave the States, which is awesome.
A: First of all, there is nothing wrong with managing a yogurt store . Lots of thriving careers have started that way. Second, I'm probably the wrong person to ask since every day I am grateful that my teenage daughter expresses no desire for a career in the performing arts. Of course, there's always the chance you could be the next Helen Mirren, and I'm wrong to tell you to stick with your job. More likely, you will spend tons of money on your MFA and then work at a yogurt shop while you're hoping for your big break. I think a career in business can be full of excitement and creativity. If you can see it that way, then stay. But if you will spend every minute wishing you were in England being a star, then go.
Q.RE: Corporate Career or Art Career?: Thanks for the advice. Actually, I'm not the acting type; the degree that I would be getting would be in Shakespeare Theory, so my plan was to get a job in secondary education teaching Shakespeare to undergrads. I'll definitely have to think about it some more, but it's nice to know that there are people out there who won't judge me for "selling out" if I do end up going the corporate route.
A: How about if, with all your big corporate earnings, you get a season subscription to your local Shakespeare theater. Or you fly to London once a year to take in as many plays as possible. Trading in a thriving career to take on a lot of debt in the hopes that you can teach Shakespeare to uninterested teenagers sounds like a recipe for feeling all your tomorrows creep in this petty pace from day to day.First, the narcissistic, the personal, the least racy over-share ever: The letter reminded me of something I hadn't thought of in years - that right before learning I'd gotten into my dream grad program, I had the possibility of getting a more interesting and better-paid job at the same organization where I already worked. Before I found out how great of a possibility that was, I confessed to my plans for the fall, which put me definitively out of the running. I suppose my situation's not quite comparable to that of the letter-writer, if only because I made more last year as a grad student than my salary was at the real-world office job I had in my between-college-and-grad-school year. The market has told me where my skills are more valued, which turned out to be, of all things, studying French.
Now the more general. What's confusing is that it's virtually impossible to know, from the information provided, what, exactly, the letter-writer is choosing between. She (assuming a husband-haver to be, in most cases, a woman, although in the field in question this is perhaps a stupid assumption) wants a job in "secondary education teaching Shakespeare to undergrads." Isn't "secondary" high school? In the U.K., it apparently begins at 11. Does the letter-writer want to teach middle school, high school, or college?
Whichever it is, how is an MFA the relevant degree for teaching English at any level? And - and forgive me if this is something specific to MFA degrees - are there really degrees in "Shakespeare," as in, in the works of just one author, or degrees that promise jobs teaching that which one finds most interesting, defined so narrowly? The grad program is, according to the letter-writer, "extremely competitive," but it doesn't seem as though she knows what the program even is - or maybe she does but doesn't want to give away too many details to a public forum? She ends up coming across as the stereotype of a prospective grad student, who loves some ridiculously mainstream subject, who doesn't realize it's been done to death, and who refuses to contemplate the practical consequences of life choices. In other words, if "she" is neither she nor he but the creation of the advice columnist, I wouldn't be surprised.
Meanwhile, the other option - big bizness - looks a bit hazy. Her boss "sees great potential" for her and "wants to put [her] on the fast-track to management." If she opts for that route, she "would be making about triple what [she is] currently making now." (Emphasis mine.) None of this seems to be in writing. The boss could lose his own job, or could be dangling the prospect of big bucks in front of a reliable but not amazing employee, with the hopes that she won't quit. She has not, at any rate, been offered a job that pays three times what she currently makes.
Finally, there's this: "My husband has said that he supports my decision either way and will follow me if I leave the States, which is awesome." Is this husband himself a freelance Shakespearean or a corporate hot-shot? This is the difference between Art meaning starving in an alley (or serving frozen yogurt) and Art meaning maybe the kids can't switch to private school till high school.
In other words, the variables are many, of which few indeed are available to Prudie and her readers. Why am I pointing this out? Because this is how every single discussion of grad school plays out. (Enjoy the latest installment if you have yet to do so.) We get a whole lot of generalizations - programs that pay livable stipends are conflated with ones that cost a fortune. Elite programs where simply having the name of a particular university on a CV is a plus are mixed up with ones where everyone will express shock that Obscure U even has a program in Obscure Studies. Medieval Studies gets conflated with Chemical Engineering. The Grad Student eats ramen and wears black turtlenecks, wakes up at 3pm and speaks in jargon.
At the same time, all alternatives to PhD programs are viewed as one and the same - the Great, Unnamed Stable Career, which might not sound like much, but which is what anyone sensible would have done. The GUSC promises 100% job safety till retirement, and has immediate openings for any recent college grad willing to forgo the chance to study poetry. Unemployment what? No, no, every grad student has turned down a theoretical GUSC. Because the woman considering grad school who wrote in to Prudence has such a GUSCy GUSC lined up, I offer the possibility that she is, in fact, a fictional creation. But I study literature, I see fiction everywhere.