Okay, suppose you were told you had to come up with your absolute, life-defining magnum opus in the next two years by enduring cruel and inhuman weekends of research and writing while being suspended over a vat of scalding coffee. I know, I know, that’s not what Marlboro students are ever actually told about their Plan of Concentration, of course, but it seems to me that’s how some freshmen and sophomores view their culminating work—like some impending doom. Well, senior Rebecca Mallary set the record straight at her Plan presentation yesterday, affectionately referring to the familiar syndrome as “Planxiety.” She described the vicious cycle of angst-gripped seniors and impressionable freshmen, somehow perpetuating the illusion that Plan is a sort of ultimate life-test you either barely survive or perish trying. I swear I could feel a collective sigh of relief from students in the room, as Rebecca brushed such dire, “Bridge of Death” impressions away.
So the trick, according to Rebecca, is to find a Plan topic or topics that you really love, and then the rest will come naturally, or at least without inflicting mortal wounds. In her case it was exploring the history of fantasy literature for young people, especially the changing face of heroines towards more feminist ideals, and writing her very own novel in this genre. Senior Marguerite Fields, who presented her Plan in the same session, was equally passionate about depictions of home, family and memory in literature and visual arts. Both of these young women were living testament that Plan was very survivable, even enjoyable on some scalding coffee-induced level. I mean, Marguerite had already hung a show of her work at a gallery in Brattleboro and Rebecca was already laughing about writing the first draft of her novel. If I were a freshman, their confidence and optimism would be totally contagious enough to nip my Planxiety in the bud.
If any students were “on the fence” about graduate school after Marlboro, they fell ass over teakettle into the mud and manure last Tuesday. That’s when faculty members held a panel on graduate programs that was as bracing as an ice cold shower in January. Okay, so some of it was a bit gloomy: For example, history professor Adam Franklin-Lyons said the recent economic crisis has made the job market for medieval history professors go from “dire” to “slightly more dire.” On the bright side, there were excellent cookies supplied by Desha Peacock, Marlboro’s career development counselor. Desha organized the panel to make students aware that there is life beyond the cookie drawer.
Biology professor Jaime Tanner had the best news for students planning on graduate school: the independent research required will not be as much of a shock to Marlboro students, who do that sort of thing every day before lunch. Asian studies professor Seth Harter urged students to research programs thoroughly for the one that’s right for them, and learn about the careers of students that have gone to that program. Obviously, even to me, the faculty members assembled for the panel had a bias toward doctoral programs leading to academic careers, but other options like medical school, law school and business school were also bandied about. Joe Heslin, director of graduate admissions at the Marlboro College Graduate School, piped in on the wide diversity of graduate options including professional degree programs. Ironically, Joe urged applicants to “never trust anyone in admissions” and make every effort to meet fellow students in the program.
Adam also pointed out a psychological syndrome, probably one of many common among doctoral students, affectionately known as “fear of charlatanism.” Apparently, this comes from the overwhelming feeling that your work is not quite good enough, that you are an impostor, a sham artist who’s scholarly work is as suspect as snake oil. Adam says this feeling is often supported by the opinions and comments of academic peers and authorities, giving the confusing impression that they think that you think that they know that you are not as smart as you think you are. All I can say is that Marlboro students must be darn good at this snake oil business, because more than half of them go on to advanced study within five years of graduating.