Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why do I want to go to grad school?

Writing the personal statement for my graduate school admissions packet, due Wednesday, is making me crazy. Or rather, I am making myself crazy and blaming the essay. Either way, I find myself on the night before the deadline I've set myself (giving it an extra day to arrive in the mail, because I'm paranoid), staring at jumbles of notes on the computer screen, taking "breaks" to look at something on Facebook, talking my roommates to avoid the essay, and thinking things like, "If I'm having this much trouble with the personal statement, what's going to happen when I have homework? What am I doing!? Maybe I'm not cut out for this!"

That is a silly way to think. Getting started is always the hardest part; from here, getting back into the pattern of assignments, written essays, and deadlines will only get easier. If I wasn't cut out for this, I wouldn't already have two degrees, one with honors and one with high honors. It's not any different from work, going to a place at a set time, getting assignments, making a schedule for myself and managing my time to meet a deadline.

Sometimes, I have a topic I want to blog about. But when I sit down in front of a Blogger screen, I blank out. Recently I realized that e-mails I write on the same topics flow freely; maybe I should start out a themed blog spot as an e-mail to a friend.

Maybe I should start out my personal statement as a blog post, or an e-mail.

I don't think I've written about it much here, but since the spring, I've been working on getting into a graduate program in public administration; neither of my degrees are in such a field. Since the last year of my botany degree, I've planned to go to graduate school for botany and, although I enjoyed working in environmental education, ultimately have a career as a botanist, preferably a botany professor, too.

When I became unemployed last fall, I looked for jobs as a botanist, entomologist, or other nature/environment-based scientist. Competition for these jobs is fierce, funding is low, and yet I could have gotten one...had I been willing to move. And those jobs too would have been temporary. So, in a few months, I would have found myself once again unemployed. The jobs didn't pay enough to fund breaking leases and moving all over the place. Originally, this was what I wanted when I left New Jersey; a rootless life driven by a love of travel and botany. But I found myself not wanting that anymore. I like Portland; I'm sure I'd like other places, but the process of getting settled in this city, getting adjusted to a new place, and making friends, was so difficult, I couldn't stand the thought of doing that again and again, every nine months or so.

On a side note, "rootless" does describe the way I've been living. At least I've stayed in two geographic areas (North-Central NJ and the Portland Metro Area), but in those places, I haven't lived in a place for as much as six consecutive months since I moved at the end of August 2008. I lived in one place for nine months, but two of those months were spent at my parents' while I was on a jury; the courthouse was much closer to their house than to my apartment. In Portland, I've had four different addresses (including my current one); also, I spent about a month living out of a suitcase at a friend's house. Where I am now, I'm settled for at least six months. This is a nice feeling. But something to write about another time, so back to my graduate school topic!

Anyway, I haven't turned my back on botany, but I want to develop some skills that are universal, that I could use in any field. These ideas started to form when I was working in environmental education in NJ; my background in education and horticulture only got me so far. I wanted to learn more about the things that would help me design and market successful programs, plan special events, and manage volunteers. I wanted to learn how to make the most of our budget and available resources; I wanted to learn to maximize profits, all toward the goal of making the organization the best it could be, to most effectively work toward its mission.

I started to think, maybe I don't want to just do scientific research. Maybe I want to run a scientific organization. Maybe I want to be the director of a botanical garden or a conservation organization.

But really, I don't want to limit myself to botany or even science. My academic background and my interests include writing, literature, the arts, and women's studies. I've always been interested in humans rights; my interest in the environment has its roots in my belief that environmental conservation is linked to social justice (to explain this simply, conservation of nature => conservation of the resources humans need to survive. Think agriculture, for example.)

So, I'm interested in being an effective leader and manager of any organization, but I think learning how to do this would make me a good botanical leader, too. Even if I go back and get my PhD in botany someday, a degree in organizational management wouldn't go to waste; I'd be a really great manager of a lab! Or I could combine both things and be a scientific activist or something...

I think, with some digressions and a definite need for editing, I just wrote my essay!

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