Finding a Path from AMCS to Grad School by Kierstan Carter (AMCS 2016)

teacher: here's ur topic
me: oh jeez i hate that topic
teacher: pick your own topic
me: oh jeez im not a decision maker

--source: @wattpadfic





The wonderful and terrible thing about graduate school is that it really can be whatever you want. In the six months since starting graduate school, I've met people who study everything from the construction of space suits to a group of ancient Greek hippies called the Stoics to pre-colonial African economies. I study African-American political thought, a topic I never took undergraduate classes in and never wrote about until I put together my application for graduate school, largely, because AMCS gave me access to advisors, graduate students, and other undergrads who helped me hone my ideas.

I majored in AMCS with a concentration in "20th Century America" and "The Construction of Race and Ethnicity in American Life." But, in the five semesters between the pizza social when I declared my major and graduation, I went through phases of interest in hyper-digitality, St. Louis racial geographies, "millennials," and trans-Atlantic modern literature. The only constant throughout those intellectual fugues was that I talked to graduate students and professors about what they studied and how. I knew from my disciplinary foundation courses in English that I liked close reading and thinking about literature. I knew from my fieldwork classes with AMCS PhDs that I liked the theories behind archeology even if I didn't want to dig things out of the ground. And I knew from my thesis advisors that I loved to talk about politics. By the time I set about applying to PhD programs, I'd combined all of those experiences into the nugget of an idea: I wanted to study literature as artifacts of particular political moments.

Turns out, there are really only seven faculty members sprinkled across the country who study that topic the way I wanted to and most of them are faculty members at Harvard, which is how I ended up in the department of African and African-American Studies with a primary field in Government. From AMCS I'd learned what topics and methods I liked and which methods I really didn't like (I still don't understand what historians do). That long, circuitous process of intellectual development helped me find other people who were interested in similar things. If you're anything like me, you majored in AMCS because you looked around at the requirements for other majors and thought "oh jeez i hate that topic." And now, if you're interested in graduate school, you feel overwhelmed by the possibilities because "oh jeez im not a decision maker." After my first semester in graduate school, I can attest that that feeling doesn't go away. But it does get easier to deal with the more you talk to the people around you and learn from them about the choices in front of you!