The title of “scholar” was one that intimidated me since before I began my graduate studies -- it felt as though I would never be able to achieve it. Yet the final question asked during the defense of my culminating project for this M.A. in English degree was “how do you feel now that you have joined the scholarly community with your own unique intervention?” To hear that question of recognition and welcome was truly an honor. I can honestly say that I achieved what I had hoped to over the course of my two years in this grad program. Along the way, I’ve learned that becoming a scholar is less about being inherently intelligent and more about learning scholarly conventions in order to make a contribution to the conversations that already exist. I can definitely attest to the fact that hard work, humility, and perseverance made it possible.
The Culminating Experience:
To provide some context for my journey, I thought it would be helpful to share a little bit about the M.A. process at San Diego State. I chose the portfolio option, meaning I revised my star paper to the point that I might feasibly submit it for publication. The portfolio workshop began in January. It was truly a rigorous and demanding process. I was able to engage with children’s literature seriously and had very high standards to meet regarding the quality of my research and writing. One of the biggest takeaways was certainly my development of endurance. While I hadn’t really ever had a problem with working hard, I was used to completing and then submitting assignments -- done. Though I taught revision in my composition classes, I didn’t actually have to do it myself as a student. In the workshop, however, I had to submit section after section of my paper for the weekly assignments, then go back and revise based on the feedback I received from my peers and professor while also preparing another section for the following week. It got to the point where I dreaded reading my own words, and did all of my other assignments to avoid having to revise.
My main support throughout this process was the peers who endured it with me. We were all on the same schedule, which meant that we had to meet the same deadlines. Even so, the chance to chat in casual breakout room conversations at the beginning of class allowed us to destress. It is easy to complain about the detriments of online learning, but I believe having to undergo the portfolio workshop on Zoom while still in a global pandemic gave us the opportunity to be more vocal about all of the other things that affect the writing process. We were able to be vulnerable about impostor’s syndrome, about the struggle of researching, and about losing sight of what we had loved about our papers. Through it all, we supported one another emotionally and intellectually so that we all had intensely revised portfolios to submit by the beginning of April.
The portfolio was comprised of the star paper, a secondary paper, and an annotated bibliography, all of which I had to be prepared to discuss during my defense. My advisor and an examiner read the portfolio two weeks in advance, during which time I prepared for the questions I would likely receive. We practiced answering questions aloud in the portfolio workshop, and all too soon, it was time for the defense. Upon beginning, I was immediately overwhelmed with gratitude for the generous, thoughtful engagement of my advisor and examiner with my work. They expressed their interest in my subject matter even though Asian American children’s literature is a niche in the field of children’s literature. Their questions were specific to the content of my paper, indicating that they had read it thoroughly and could see new directions in which my ideas could expand. They were also curious about my overall journey as a student throughout my two years in the program. The conversation was very enjoyable. Terrifying at first, but ultimately very fun. It was an experience I will always be grateful for, and I expressed that sentiment in response to that final question I was posed. I feel confident taking this paper to present at ChLA 2021 to test out its readiness for eventual publication. My scholarly journey has only just begun.
The rigors of graduate-level literary study were certainly rewarding, but I also had other opportunities outside of the classroom for which I am thankful. The graduate assistantship that allows me to write these blog posts has been a fun, informal way to engage with the scholarly community. I had the chance to read and write on hot-off-the-press books, learn about the use of social media, correspond with leading intellectuals in the field via email and Twitter, attend a conference, join professional organizations, and be involved in lectures by notable scholars. More importantly, being a graduate assistant allowed me to see and validate passion for the study of children’s literature. I am forever grateful to Dr. Joseph Thomas, our Director, as well as my fellow graduate assistants, Sofia and Natalie, for sharing this space with me.
As I’ve written about before, SDSU gives graduate students the opportunity to teach first-year composition and literature courses. I won’t take up too much space reiterating it here, but thanks to those opportunities, I can pursue teaching as a career with confidence. I received extensive pedagogical training before and during the courses I taught, and professional development events were frequent and timely. I am certain that I can take all that I learned at my time at SDSU to whatever campuses I am at in the future!
A final word:
It’s hard to not get sentimental, as this is likely the last blog post I will write for the National Center for the Study of Children’s Literature. If even one person reads to the end, I will always be grateful that my words were worth your time. Thank you for this space, and I truly look forward to ongoing engagement with the study of children’s and young adult literature as a newly minted scholar.