One of the aspects of higher education that I was underprepared for was the opportunity to apply myself outside of the classroom. As an undergraduate speech communications major, I joined a few clubs and worked hard in class, but I wasn’t too concerned about how my time in college could cultivate my professional experience.
Now, as a student in the English master’s program, my peers and professors have been so supportive in making sure I’m not only aware of all the opportunities I can have to showcase my research and my academic work, but that I’m comfortable and prepared to do so. I recently was able to travel to Philadelphia for the 2023 Mid-Atlantic Popular & American Culture Association conference, and through the process of working with my fellow students and Dr. Pfannenstiel on our roundtable discussion presentation, it let me practice a lot of important skills that I don’t always get to work on.
Weekly meetings to prepare for the conference helped us put together a cohesive presentation, and talking out loud really helped me put my thoughts into words. In undergrad, I preferred to work alone and didn’t go out of my way for peer feedback, but over the course of this semester, my peers in the English department have been so inviting and supportive that it has allowed me to be more comfortable with collaboration as a necessary and constructive activity. Hearing their feedback made me feel more confident in what I was going to share at MAPACA, and hearing what they had researched gave me some ideas of my own.
These meetings and working together also gave me a structure each week, one built on making connections and spending time with others. Graduate school can be lonely – it can feel like it should be a solitary effort and like there aren’t a lot of moments to spend quality time with others outside of the classroom. I’m so glad to be a part of the English program at Millersville, because it’s been clear that while I’m here, everyone who’s a part of the department wants to see me succeed and wants to help me along the way. It can also be a little nerve-wracking (or, for me, downright terrifying) to present your own work in front of strangers, but working with such understanding classmates has helped me overcome that fear bit by bit.
Apart from the opportunity to travel to MAPACA as a way to learn more about what other academics in English studies are working on and willing to share, this whole experience has been an incredible way to build on my public speaking and research skills. Additionally, it helped solidify the fact that English is such a diverse field of study, one that has room for everyone and everyone’s unique interests. I feel very lucky to be a part of a department that understands this and allows room for us to pursue our interests, and a department that encourages me to attend events like MAPACA, even if initially I believed them to be outside of my comfort zone.