Post-Graduate Survival

What are you doing next?

Do you have any plans?

So what’s next for you?

The signs that you’ve graduated. And if you’ve graduated from a post-bacclureate program you’re especially expected to have an answer –– usually to conform to the logic of academia in the form of a PhD program, or some continuation of the arduous work at an entry-level job or fellowship. I made a decision to wait to apply to PhD programs until  after I graduated. That was a personal decision, an act of self-care. I wanted to be sure that it was a commitment I truly wanted, and not because it was expected of me or for fear of not having a job.

I made this decision in the midst of the academic whirlwind of grad school. Master’s programs are a hustle –– reading, mounting debt, part-time and full-time work, teaching, interning, fellowships, more reading, and grading (this is not a comprehensive list). It was a two-year shuffle. So when people ask what I am doing next –– having several seats.

It has now been 2 months since graduation with time to examine my value and goals. And I advise all of the recent graduates to take the time after decompressing to determine those for yourself, particular those coming out of second-degree programs. An interview I did for Nylon (here) got me thinking on the lack of attention given to this “mid-level” of academia. There was this hovering feeling of “oh, nice, so what’s next?,” as though a Master’s couldn’t be all that I aspired. And when you graduate you must have it all figured out because you made a decision to pursue a second degree.

I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but here are a few things that have kept me inspired through my journey of adulting:

1. Avoid Comparison

It’s human and we do it in every capacity. However, be particularly mindful as you consider (honestly) what will make you happy.

I’m the oldest sibling, and the oldest among first-cousins. I’ve had the privilege of setting the example, so as long as I made it out okay it was all good. Anything else was a plus. Creating this blog with Amanda has become a sisterhood of sorts, and people often think of us as a set (don’t worry we get it). So, when she could casually tell people she was going to Harvard, I suddenly felt the need to measure up in some way; explain more than I care to to strangers.

The bubble of academia had me feeling inadequate, without enough fellowships and honor awards, or never thinking deep enough. I had collapsed myself into an expectation, and for that I had lost sight of what my interests were and what I have to offer. Which leads to my next point…

2. Road-Map

Take the time to assess what you’ve learned, accomplished and survived from your program. With what skills do you feel equipped? What do you want to learn more about? How have your goals evolved or changed since you began your program? If you still have the same goals, what steps do you need to get there? If your goals have changed, what tools or skills do you need to gain to get there?

These questions seem basic but it is easy upon graduating to think of yourself in the technical terms of the institution. But you now have transferrable skills, figure out how you want to use them.

It was my experience, that since museums were always at the forefront of where I wanted to be, while studying in a degree program outside of Museum Studies, my definition of success looked a bit differently. And even if you are in a program in which everyone is pursuing a similar track, determine your skills in your own terms. I am learning the language of what I wanted to accomplish, and part of that task is to not worry myself over whether it gets the attention of others.

3. Slow Down

All of these moments are part of our growth, the joy and the tears (and you will cry), and contribute beautifully to the work we aspire toward. Paint your toe nails, all of them. Cook a meal, and eat.

No plan is airtight or without bumps in the road.

4. Practice Self-Care

This could not be more important. Finding yourself is confusing enough without humanity being shi**y.

I recently joined kickboxing! Punching a bag for a few hours a week has already been such a great way to pour my mind into something outside of the internets, relieve stress, and be healthy.

Self-care, is just that, for the self and contribute to your ability to grow.

5. Establish Your Value

Lastly, value your time. Know your value for yourself, but also be sure others are clear on how you value your work and time. As an independent, or freelancer, that means being clear in the work you do, and the amount you will accept. Not everyone will agree.

As a job applicant, this means valuing your time with each job application. Quality over quantity. Job applications take a really long time. Like a really long time. Sure you want to cast a wide net but also be particular in your choosing. Find a passion in the workplace setting or job position description that you can latch yourself.

As I prepared to graduate, I was nervous that I wasn’t applying to enough jobs. But I learned my lesson when I spent so much energy trying to complete applications for things I didn’t have a passion for, but for the sake of applying did, and then when I looked up something that did interest me had passed. Sometimes the reward is in the waiting.

This process also made me very aware of the folks on the other side, human resources, curators, and people  I know. I began to think of every application like a hard or soft inquiry into my credit. This encouraged me to find the zeal in completing the application, and to not get discouraged by the search. Also, it helped me to better evaluate whether an application was worth my time.


Like I said, I certainly don’t have all the answers, and this is definitely not an exhaustive list. What tips do you have for post-graduate survival and adulting? #BGMBfindyourspace on Twitter @2brwngirls and Instagram @brwngirlsmuseblog

One response to “Post-Graduate Survival”

  1. Stephanie says:

    I wish I could have read this four years ago, when I finished my Master’s. I felt so lost and directionless. In particular, I appreciate your stance on job applications. I’d like to add – be sure you WANT the job before you accept. I accepted a museum job in an unfamiliar city and too little pay because I was so tired of being rejected. It took years for me to get this job and I felt I had to take what I was given. Looking back, it feels like jumping into a luke-warm relationship because you’re lonely. At the end of the day, neither party feels satisfied. So, in addition to applying only to jobs you really care about, be sure you’d WANT it if it was offered to you. You may be qualified to do the job, but unless you really want it you won’t be happy.

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