On Wednesday, March 31st, Stockton University’s Literature Program, The School of Arts and Humanities, and The Office of Alumni Affairs sponsored an alumni career panel on graduate school. The event was held over Zoom at 6:00 PM, and featured a panel of Stockton alumni and literature professors. The event panelists included Mark-Allan Donaldson, a graduate of the class of 2015 who is pursuing a PhD in Comparative Literature; Shilo Previti, a first-year graduate student at the University of North Dakota; Erica Villani, a graduate of the class of 2016 and a 2019 graduate of Louisiana State University; and Jaime Walters, a graduate of the class of 2019 pursuing an MFA at New York University. The panelists covered a variety of topics related to graduate school, ranging from application preparation to job hunting.
During the panel, the alumni reflected on their time in Stockton’s literature program and how their experiences at the university helped them succeed on their paths to graduate school. Previti commented on the “well-rounded” learning environment that Stockton provides, stating that “you pick up a lot of kooky stuff that Stockton.” Donaldson, who worked for The Argo during his time at Stockton, remarked on how important the research component of his Stockton literature degree was. He claims that from his experience, the research courses in graduate school are the “same structure [as Stockton’s], but just a bit more intense.” He describes his time at Stockton as a “weird journey,” but a fruitful one nonetheless. Villani, who currently works as a librarian in the East Baton Rouge Library System, emphasized the hard work that it took for her to get where she is. “If the [Stockton] library was open until 1 AM, I was there until 1 AM… I had a specific goal in mind, and I was going to plough people over if they tried to stop me,” she said. Villani also emphasized the importance of utilizing university resources like author visits and poetry readings. Walters agreed, stating that it was “helpful to meet people at Stockton” through organizations such as Stockpot Literary Magazine, Comedy Club, and the tutoring center.
When asked about the application process, the alumni gave the following advice: start early and be willing to move. Donaldson described the chances of getting accepted into graduate schools on the first try “statistically depressing,” and that a rejection is “not a reflection of your self-worth.”
Professor Adam Miyashiro added that if acceptance into a graduate degree of one’s choice is hard, “jobs are much more difficult to get.” In spite of this, the alumni encourage students applying to graduate school to not be deterred by failure, as they themselves have experienced rejection. “I was rejected by eight or nine schools,” said Donaldson. In regards to funding their graduate degrees, most of the alumni claimed to have most of their expenses covered through various assistantships and fellowship programs.
Villani recalled an important piece of advice she had received from a Stockton faculty member. “My professor told me: ‘Erica, you’re too smart to pay for graduate school. Graduate schools need to pay you,’” she said.
The faculty and alumni panel also discussed the topic of mental health in graduate school. Many of the alumni claim to have struggled with feelings of impostor syndrome and isolation, especially in light of the pandemic.
“Covid has made things really weird,” said Walters. Villani also emphasized the importance of prioritizing one’s mental health, even if it means taking off of school for a while. “Taking off is never something that will diminish your chances of getting in somewhere. Sometimes having time away from academia can [help improve] your abilities to perform in academia,” she said.
Previti agreed, saying, “I think that having experiences other than school can be good for us as ‘human-people,’ so it shouldn’t be bad for us as academic-people.” If mental health is something that a student struggles with, the alumni encourage them to seek help from the support services offered by the university.
“Take advantage of these resources, because they’re there for you… accept that you need help,” said Villani. Besides college-based support services, the alumni stress the importance of having a personal support system of friends and family. Donaldson’s advice: “get a cat.”