Gradschool Pt. 1

The thirteenth testimony, is about how I survived getting my Masters.
Grad school is supposed to be hard, but you still have to maintain a decent GPA, and by decent, my department meant a 3.5 or higher. In undergrad that had been a piece of cake, but in my first couple of years in graduate school, I could barely maintain a 3.0. I felt as though I had gotten amnesia and as a result had lost a great deal of IQ points. I was working harder than I ever had, taking diligent notes, talking to the professors/teaching assistants, and even reading the text book. When I brought the issue up to my advisor, he suggested that I “know what I don’t know and learn it,” which would have made some sense if I had been doing as poorly on the homework as I was on the tests. The strange thing was that my homework scores were generally high As with a few A-’s and B+’s. I was earning perfect scores on projects and it seemed like I knew all the material being covered. Yet, every time I was given a test, the questions were unlike anything I’d seen before and I performed poorly. I don't think I scored above a 70 on a single test during that time.

If it wasn’t bad enough that, ostensibly, I was flunking out, I was fairly unhappy with my situation in general. There was a lot about the department I didn’t like, not including my failed exams. There was a great deal I didn’t like about the university, as well. I didn’t fit in with most of the graduate students I met; I was “cool” enough to be invited to random gatherings or called for a ride but not cool enough for the daily lunches/hangouts, which became obvious during the other gatherings. Eventually, I found a better circle to hang out with and my sorority sisters kept my spirits up, because I was too stubborn to quit, so I hung in there. I didn't think God opened all those doors for me just to have me fail.

I was approaching the sink or swim moment in my program as I neared the final semester to earn the 3.5 and apply to move forward in the program or fail to earn the 3.5 and be kicked out the program, when God swooped in again. Someone sent me a text message asking if I’d seen “The Notice” but I didn’t know what they were talking about. When I checked my email, I learned that they were trying to shut down my department. In the weeks that followed I participated in many student-lead protests, but I got to witness exactly how two-faced my department was and all the underhanded behavior that existed in my department. Those weeks were the final straw. The idea that the department was being shut down liberated stubborn me and offered me the chance of quitting without offending the stubborn part of me. I wasn’t gung ho about quitting my degree, regardless of the circumstances, but I knew that in mid to late April, the chances of applying to, getting accepted to, and receiving funding from another school were very slim. So, I updated my resume and started applying for jobs online, in addition to contacting my alma mater for advice on continuing my degree at another institution. Neither my academic advisor nor fellowship advisor followed through with their promise to write me a recommendation letter for the jobs or for the application to return to my alma mater. No one at my current institution would confirm (or deny) the availability of my assistantship after whatever changes were approved took effect (the proposal included the elimination of teaching assistants and a reduction of research which was how I was supposed to be funded), and although he met with other students in my lab about the situation, my advisor assured me he had no idea what was going to happen. I was about to apply for a job at the furniture store near my apartment complex when my alma mater sent me a letter saying I was re-accepted with funding.

By itself, that acceptance—the quickest acceptance I’ve ever witnessed—was a miracle, but my problems weren’t over yet. I had a lease I needed to break, and I would need to find an apartment near my new/old school. The landlord told me if I could move out early (re: the end of the month) he was 99% positive he could re-assign my lease. When I traveled over 7 hours back to my alma mater to search for an apartment only one apartment complex had apartments that were nice, would fit my furniture, and were within my budget. They had exactly one availability—it was on the top floor, just as I wanted—and the earliest move in date was the end of the month. So God not only got me into another school to continue my degree, but He got me out of my lease, and found me a new apartment.

You would think that was enough miracle-work from God for one person, but He still wasn’t finished. My contact at my alma mater, the Graduate Student Coordinator for my department, had suggested that I look into graduating with a Masters degree from the institution I was leaving. The Masters curriculum was different from the PhD curriculum, it required classes the PhD did not and more hours of actual classwork (as opposed to research, seminar, or dissertation credits). Remember when I said I was struggling to get a 3.5 GPA? To bring my GPA up, I had taken extra classes. Acing my homework kept my GPA above a 3.0, while failing the tests kept in under a 3.5, enabling me to simultaneously pass the class but need to take another to better the “low” grade of the class. When I went through the degree requirements, I had exactly the right amount of credits to graduate with a Masters and since the department chair felt I "didn't perform as [he] had hoped" and “wasn’t cut out for a PhD,” he eagerly signed my petition to graduate with a Masters.

God had a plan all along—He never meant for me to stay at that institution for my PhD. I learned a lot during that period of my life, not nearly as much as you would expect in my field, but about life, about people, and most importantly about God. I spent a lot of time thinking during these first years in graduate school; it was good for me. I became more confident in myself, despite the situation I was in. God reminded me that gold doesn’t just exist at the end of the rainbow, sometimes it exists at the bottom of the hole you fell into (along with a ladder). This is my 13th testimony.

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