This post was written by alumnus Kevin Jackson.
At a point in one’s life…
One tends to make a few general realizations, especially when considering higher education. First, life always takes you on a journey. Second, having direction within your life journey is not only a unique gift, but is the difference between having the time of your life verses just ‘getting by.’ The perfect motif for this idea is that of this blog’s title, Vision, Passion, Action. That is to say, if you possess, and can allow yourself to appreciate, your own unquenchable thirst to learn from life, in all of its numerous forms (Vision), and your educational opportunities and situations allow you to match and realize your goals (Passion), then conceivably your life while completing these goals (Action) may offer you a more meaningful and enjoyable experience. So yes, you can do it, and yes you can have the time of your life (while getting paid! …very little).
However, there are a few conditions—what works for one may not work for the other, and if what is stated here does not resonate with you, then this information may not be as useful to you. For example, we all have different interests, goals, and means’ to accomplish those goals. Essentially, if you can easily work out the logistics of doing graduate work (MA or PhD), then for you it may simply be a choice of either going or not going. However, this post was written specifically for those potential graduate students in Disability Studies or Mad Studies who find themselves face-to-face with challenging obstacles (perhaps facing resistance from family, friends, culture, socio-economic situation, etc.). For people living in precarious environments, graduate school may seem out of reach, even though it may not be that far out of reach. When considering graduate school, I have found the following three overlapping considerations (and series of questions, comments) to be helpful, based on the DST’s blogs maxim, Vision, Passion, Action!
Is there an issue or topic that is thematic within your life that you would love to research full-time for the rest of your life? Do you possess a burning desire to explore a set of thoughts, assumptions and/or phenomenon? Do you think, somewhat obsessively, about how you would carry out your own unique style and type of research projects(s)? If so, please proceed to the next section….
What is that you have always wanted to research with almost full autonomy? Do you find yourself thinking that a Disability or Mad studies framework could provide you with a set of (almost) perfect models upon which to help you realize your research goals (…with a little tweaking)? Do you find the thought of doing an MA or PhD alluring, yet also a tad stress-inducing? If so, please proceed to the next section….
The above questions are important to keep in mind, but are, for the most part, not really much more than a thought experiment. Unless one actually throws their hat into the ring, so to speak, one will never realize their own Vision and Passion. Action is the doing part; but Action may also include not doing. In this case, I mean that it is perfectly acceptable to simply apply to an MA or PhD program (that resonates with you), which you may actually end up turning down. I said and I did just that. In my case, I just wanted to see if I would get accepted (NB: each program application can cost upwards of $200 CAD). However, I found that, after the shock of being accepted into York University’s Critical Disability Studies PhD program (the only one I applied to), I might actually be able to do my own PhD! Why not? I was accepted, was I not? So, while I continue to feel like an imposter within ‘the academy,’ I have come to realize that I may just simply be where I am supposed to be in life. It was under these sets of assumptions (as informed by reflection, information gathering, and careful assessment of resources and family connections) that I finally made my decision to follow the path before me.
Aside from your exploration of all other practical considerations, the above questions and ponderings may help you to make an informed decision about whether or not to do your graduate work. So, if you have a burning desire to learn about social issues that focus on inequality, social justice, or anything in between, then doing focused graduate/post-graduate work may be the vocation for you.
I wish you all the best, and urge you not to limit yourself. If you are careful, and have the desire to learn (to live in your head a bit more than you did yesterday) then you may be ready to (gradually and gently) commit to graduate school. If the above information resonates with you, perhaps it is time to speak with one or two of your favorite faculty members, friends and family about the process (for me it was Kathryn, Rachel, Tobin, and my friend Russell from York U’s, PhD program). These teachers have supported me, and I am very fond of them. Such teachers will mentor you through your academic career, if you can open yourself to their wisdom and guidance. The last piece of advice I can offer you is about people: Pay-it-forward is always a good motto to follow in graduate school. As professional teachers, you will both teach and be taught. Final words of advice: be informed within y/our own VPA (whatever that means to you), and simply be there, open to the experience and your potential.
I wish you the best of luck on your next great life adventure!