Taking the Year in a Life series in a slightly different direction, JoyEllen Freeman began sharing her experience in the Mosaic Program in October. You can read past posts here.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
-Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Oh, Cheshire Cat, if only it were that simple.
From the time I began elementary school, I was taught to focus on an upward trajectory. My teachers and my parents placed me on a pretty linear path that was meant to keep me moving forward. This path involved making good grades, obeying my teachers, graduating from middle school, graduating from high school, going to college, staying involved in extracurricular activities, etc. However, now that I am graduating master’s student in archival studies, I’m finding that my trajectory is no longer linear. In fact, my life as a Student and New Archives Professional this semester has been anything BUT linear.
As I prepare for graduation in May, I feel pulled in many different directions. On one hand, I have applied to two amazing PhD programs in Library and Information Science where I will specialize in archival studies. However, to keep my options open, I am also applying and interviewing for jobs as well. The prospect of both options excites me, and I find myself asking the same question Alice posed to the Cheshire Cat: “…which way I ought to go from here?”
The Cheshire Cat’s response to Alice is quite pertinent to my life. He says, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” This is the exact same response I get from my mentors when I ask for life advice. They ask me to first articulate what it is I want to do with my life. I’ve given lots of thought to this question over the past few months, and I’ve concluded that I have two main professional goals. My two goals include becoming the director of an archival program and becoming a scholar and professor in an iSchool teaching archival studies. Now for the bigger question…how do I get there?
In January of this year, I had the honor of attending the 2016 Association of Research Libraries Leadership Symposium as a part of my 2015 – 2017 Association of Research Libraries/Society of American Archivists Mosaic Fellowship. This symposium opened my eyes to so many different opportunities that exist in libraries and archives, especially in terms of scholarship. During one of the panels, I asked a group of librarians and archivists about PhD studies in the library science field. I got a mixed response. Although they acknowledged the value of a PhD in terms of research, publishing, and the credibility that inherently comes with the title, none of them felt it was necessary. In fact, many of them had leadership positions in academic libraries and were actively researching and publishing in the field although they did not have a doctoral degree. Instead, they emphasized the importance of gaining experience in one’s desired work environment. On the other hand, I also met many library and archives directors that did have PhDs. The doctoral degree coupled with years of experience had not only put them in a high positions of leadership within their institutions, but it had also equipped them to teach, conduct research, and possess the overall flexibility to be an authoritative voice in the field.
So, what is a SNAPer to do? It seems like there are ways to reach my goals with or without a PhD, depending on the environment. To make matters even more confusing, much of the advice I receive is strictly divided. Some people tell me I should focus on gaining more experience at this point in my life. Since the archives field is a practical one, they encourage me to continuing developing as a practitioner through my current internships at the Robert W. Woodruff Library – Atlanta University Center and the Flat Rock Archives. They believe my next goal should be securing full-time employment in the archives field. On the other hand, others encourage me to seize the moment and fully thrust myself into a PhD program while I can. They advise me to take advantage of this time in my life when my brain is fresh, my motivation is high, and my flexibility is at a maximum. Once again, Alice’s question consumes my thoughts: “…which way I ought to go from here?”
Although I’ve focused on the practical considerations of my post-graduation plans, I know the most important parts of my decision-making will be my faith and my heart. I will always remember something Dr. Ciaran Trace—an assistant professor in the iSchool at the University of Texas at Austin—told me about PhD studies. To paraphrase, she said that gaining a PhD is about answering questions that keep you up at night. I think Dr. Trace’s comment is so important because it forces me to think about my life in terms of what stirs my heart, rather than what makes sense or what will lead me down a perfect, linear path. It also forces me to keep from taking the easy way out and concluding, as did the Cheshire Cat, that “it doesn’t matter which way you go.” For me, it does matter, and through mentorship, prayer, and listening to my heart, I have no doubt that my next step as a new archives professional will become clear very soon.