Yesterday I wrote a post about my Masters project and someone reached out to me about our graduate program not having a thesis requirement. I figured it was a good time to tell the story of Jenn Schiffer: Graduate Failure.
I started my graduate studies immediately after getting my Bachelors here at MSU in 2007. I wanted to be a professor, plus my application for Graduate Assistant was accepted; I’d get teaching experience AND continue to be paid to go to school. A Master’s program is typically two years, with coursework done throughout all 4 semesters. The final requirement for graduation is the completion of a “culminating experience.” Our department had 3 options back then: thesis, project, or comprehensive exam.
I wanted to do a thesis because I wanted to go into a PhD program afterwards. I was really interested in latent semantic indexing (warning: MATHEMATICS INVOLVED, H8RS) and so I wrote half a paper on using Wikipedia’s free data to improve context search. All was going well until my final semester when I had to get jaw surgery because of a stupid root canal-induced infection. Then Jimmy (then boyfriend, now ex) fell ill and couldn’t work. Also, I hit a wall with my research. I decided to bite the bullet and take a leave of absence so I could take on more freelance work and focus on both of us getting better before I can focus on my studies. I also decided then that I’m not really into being a professor and, instead, would probably like to just code instead of straight-up researching and teaching.
My short leave of absence turned into a couple of years. Then in July 2011, I found myself hired full-time here at MSU and it became a good time for me to get back into the graduate school game. We had a new faculty member who did research in software engineering, and I new that she and I would be a great fit to start a project on assessment. That became my culminating experience.
The degree was 5 years in the making. In those 2 and half years of being “in limbo,” I felt like such a loser for not being able to just finish what I started and get shit done. I saw students that I trained as Graduate Assistants graduate before me, find work, etc. When I presented my project and posed for photos next to the cake Bev’s husband made for me, it seriously felt like hundreds of pounds had been lifted from my shoulders. The weather was shitty, my hair was a mess, and I hated my outfit, but I felt like a million bucks/Beyoncé.
“Three months of no sleep. PUT DOWN THE CAMERA AND JUST GIVE ME THE CAKE, WOMAN.”
Those few years of feeling like a failure felt like a lifetime. There were times when I’d find my half-written thesis, or notes from all the research and articles I’ve read, and go lay in my empty bathtub and wish I was a shark or something equally cool. It sounds ridiculous now, but I felt like I didn’t deserve to be where I was at in my career – like, why would people hire me to write code for them when I can’t even finish a goddamn Master’s degree? Now I’ve got my diploma, framed and on the floor waiting to be hung up, and room on my shoulders to worry about other things – like getting back into studying LSI and continuing work on my projects without literally losing hair over the pressure of all the shitty things happening in my life then.
Whenever I feel like lost, I can look at the framed diploma and think 1. I can’t believe how much money it cost to frame that thing, and 2. I’m not a loser, I’m effing fabulous! It doesn’t always work right away, but it’ll do until I can hire someone to follow me everywhere and tell me how awesome they are paid to think I am.
I set my half-written thesis on fire. What did you do this weekend?