We recently caught up with Emma Britton and asked her to tell us a little bit about her first semester of graduate school. Here’s her reply:
After graduating in 2007, I decided to stay in Tacoma get my Masters in Teaching at UPS. The capstone class in the program required me to write a thesis based on what I had learned during my student teaching experience. My focus was on trying to create a learning space in which students could start reflecting on their socio-cultural identities. This experience really forced me to re-evaluate my thinking with regards to the direction of my budding career. I loved teaching, but I could not shake my interest in social and cultural issues; an interest that started when I was in the Comparative Sociology Department as an undergraduate at UPS. I decided to move back to Salem, Oregon (where I grew up), and started teaching at Chemeketa Community College while also brainstorming about how I could get into graduate program in anthropology.
I think everyone’s graduate school search process is a little different depending on where their priorities lie. I started to realize that the search for the right graduate program is a lot like the search for the perfect pair of jeans – they don’t have to be the fanciest brand, or the most expensive pair in the mall, but they have to fit well in all the right places. And just because someone else might rave about a certain program, doesn’t mean it will fit you perfectly too. In my case, there were three very important features by which I assessed graduate programs. First, I wanted to find a program that focused on research that I was also interested in. For me, this jeans metaphor translated into finding a program committed to research on circuits of transnational migration, and education in a globalized context. Along with that, I needed to find an advisor who not only shared those research interests, but also had the time and desire to guide me through the graduate experience. Not all professors are interested in working with graduate students, or make the time!
Secondly, I wanted to find a program that utilized an applied approach to anthropology. An applied approach uses the tools of anthropology to help solve everyday social problems out in the world. On a totally pragmatic level, this is particularly attractive to me because I feel that an applied degree could make me more competitive when the time comes for me to graduate and get a job. On a more intuitive or ‘gut’ level, I felt like the approach spoke to me because applied work is scholarship in action – research that tries to address problems and ultimately make people’s lives better. As idealistic as that may sound, I know that work that is driven by that goal is work that I want to be involved with.
The third thing I needed was to find a program that could help me fund my degree. Because I had already had teaching experience, I was interested in working as a graduate teaching assistant. However, there are also research assistant positions that graduate programs offer to help students pay for tuition and, many times, living expenses. Besides not having to take out tons of student loans, working to pay for my own graduate experience is a source of a lot of personal pride for me.
After a lot of researching, a lot of time putting application materials together, and a considerable amount of time waiting and hoping, I found my way to the Applied Anthropology program at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. Right now, I think I’m still in the breaking-in phase of the graduate experience. I love having a lot of flexibility in my daily schedule, but being a graduate student requires a lot of initiative! I am taking a lot of classes, teaching undergraduates, and designing research which focuses on the experiences of Latin American immigrants in institutions of higher education in the U.S. and in Spain. Because I just started graduate school this past fall, I’m not sure where my graduate school experience will take me, but I am so thrilled to have the opportunity to find out!
Good luck with the new semester, Emma.