Wondering if graduate school in Japanese Studies is right for you? Well, we’re here to give you a little info on how and why people make the decision to continue their schooling. Of those of us who graduated in 2008, I decided to continue immediately into graduate school to acquire my master’s degree. I’m currently attending Ohio State University for a M.A. in East Asian Studies (specialization medieval Japanese history). I graduated from Gettysburg College with my B.A. in Japanese Studies and a minor in Art History. I ultimately plan to get my Ph.D. and work as a professor. (At least that’s the plan!)
So, do you want go on to graduate school?
Here’s a brief introduction to making that decision. I’ve encountered a lot of different people doing graduate school for a lot of different reasons. Here are some of them.
– want to become a professor or work in education related to Japanese studies
– want to expand linguistic skills to work in a foreign country
– want to research in another language
– have unanswered questions about a topic and a genuine interest in finding the answer
– want expand their general knowledge of a topic
– want to go into the work force and have better job opportunities (some people will stop after their M.A. expressly for this purpose)
– are avoiding the job market in this recession
There are lots of reasons why, though I won’t address them all here. And graduate school isn’t just an extension of college, or a way to avoid the economic troubles at hand. You have to be highly motivated and have ambition. Maybe you don’t know exactly what you want to do, but you know you want to do something and you need to further your education to do it. That’s okay! It took me a long time (right up until the point that I had to write an application essay about it) to sit down and say, “Hey, I think I want to do history and art in the medieval age.” When I was applying, some schools wanted me to have everything already planned out and even already have classical languages under my belt for medieval research. Yikes! Thankfully those were only the most elite of schools and others aren’t so strict.
But remember, you can always change your mind! Maybe you start researching one topic and another jumps out at you. There’s flexibility to change your mind once you’re in a graduate program. That’s the great thing about graduate school: flexibility. Maybe there isn’t a perfect graduate school out there for what you want to do, but it’s very likely that once you’re there people are willing to bend over backwards to help you study what you find interesting. It all depends on the program. Never think that you don’t have options.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you don’t have to jump into graduate school right after college. I did it, and a classmate of mine went straight to Japan for school, but others I know are taking some time out there in the workplace, in JET, etc. to get some experience (and money!) under their belts before they decide if they want to go back. Just as smart a plan! Entering at 22 also made me the youngest individual in my graduate program, if that gives you any idea of when people generally decide to go. Students, on average, were between 25 and 30 years old, but some were in their 50’s, too.
So why go right away?
I went right away because I didn’t want to take a break from the Japanese language. I wanted my skills to be fresh in my mind and keep working on them while I broadened my knowledge in the field. For me, the time period I wanted to study was something I couldn’t get much experience in during undergrad, so it was to my advantage to push on through and get more coursework under my belt and get on the research track. Others, perhaps people in international relations, might find it more beneficial to get a job or internship first. It all depends.
I’ve also considered taking a break after my M.A. and before my Ph.D., as well as going right back to Japan for more language immersion after my M.A. But in the end, I chose to go straight on to Ph.D., mostly for personal and financial reasons. It’s all relative to the type of work you can see yourself doing, if you plan on plunging deeper into research and academia, your individual situation, and the sort of life plan you have laid out.
Also worth mentioning is that M.A. programs aren’t that long. Most graduate programs for master’s degrees are 1 to 3 years, although the average program is 2 years, like mine. Even if I went right after graduation (which some people hate the idea of doing), because I’m a full-time student in the M.A program, it’s wouldn’t be another 4 year endeavor. Once you’ve graduated, you’ll realize that the time goes by very fast.
Escaping the Economy
One thing I have to warn against is going into grad school just to escape the economy. For some, this plan might seem to be ideal. And, granted, for some it might even work. But with the failure our economy over the past few years, schools are struggling, especially humanities and language programs. As a result:
– More students are applying to graduate school to avoid the job market
– Schools are admitting fewer students to cut down on costs
– The budgets of schools are being slashed
– Students are having a harder time obtaining funding
Add these things together and it means more competition for less money. A friend of mine in our sister program is a Ph.D. student, and she recently told me that OSU used to guarantee funding for Ph.D. students for 5 years, and now it may be changed to 3 or even 1. Things are uncertain, and all schools are encountering problems like this. So unless you have faith in your absolutely stellar abilities to obtain grants/fellowships/scholarships and the like, keep in mind that going to graduate school now may mean incurring quite a bit of debt via loans to pay for school.
Deciding if graduate school is the right thing for you may be a painstaking process, but consider it seriously if you think you’ll continue in Japanese studies. Is there more you want to learn? Goals that require additional degrees? Still wondering where you want Japanese to take you and willing to find out where that is? Do you think you could be wrong? So what! Consider the pros and cons carefully and don’t be afraid to take the initiative and see.
Money photo by AMagill