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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Figueroa

Grad School Experiences and Shutting Down the Doubts

And just like that, I’m officially done with school. Could you believe it? A MASTER’S degree. 20 years of school. Normally I’m not one to boast about my successes, but in this case, boasting is much deserved. These past two years of graduate school have absolutely kicked my ass, but you know what? I’m proud of myself. You know why? Because I worked my ass off for this. I was the first in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree, which then makes me the first in my family to earn a master’s degree. FIRST GENERATION. That being said, I didn’t have anybody to look to for guidance when it came to college. But now that I look back at it, I can really say that I did that ALL BY MYSELF. 

Grad school has been the biggest challenge in my life thus far, but it was so worth it. I applied because I wanted to challenge myself, and a challenge is exactly what I got. This English Literature program was no joke. It involved reading lengthy anthologies amongst other novels, multiple essays and presentations, exams, seminar papers, and lots and lots of research. Not to mention adjusting to a whole new online system due to COVID-19. 

Aside from the courses and my classwork, what truly challenged me was my final thesis. All 55 pages. I’ve been asked, “You really need that to graduate with your master’s?”

The answer to this is no. I did not need a thesis to graduate. Graduating from my program meant either taking the Comprehensive Exams (Comp Exams), or if you choose to do so and get the approval of the Graduate Coordinator, you can write a thesis. 

Let me tell you, I put my absolute heart and soul into this thesis. If you were to ask me what this consisted of, I’d say it was far more than just writing 55 pages. 

It was:

  • A year of work dedicated to this single project on top of all my other course work.

  • Putting thought into this a year in advance and thinking about what exactly I wanted to say about Petrarchism and the manipulation of male discourse in Renaissance poetry (no, this was not a feminist attack on men).

  • Taking familiar literature and calling attention to how it could be read from a new approach. 

  • Using my entire summer break wisely to get ahead and figure out what my own personal argument was going to be, because it had to be something new. Something different. 

  • Figuring out what my main points were going to be to present to my readers.

  • Doing extensive research over the summer to find and study over 30 sources that I could tie into my work and back up my argument.

  • Reading through multiple books and long/complex scholarly articles while trying to figure out what the actual FUCK these critics were talking about/arguing for or against.

  • Doing close readings of intricate Renaissance poetry and analyzing the hell out of every single word in those sonnets to make sense of my argument. 

  • Applying gender theory and feminist methodolody to support my ideas that male poets in this time period enable themselves to be pitied whereas female poets do not.

  • Using my entire winter break to push through Chapter One, before classes started up again.

  • Trying to find time between my regular course work during my last semester and going from working on class assignments, to jumping right back into doing more research for my thesis.

  • Pushing through another entire chapter and introduction in less than a month because I struggled with getting it done throughout the semester. 

  • What felt like a never-ending cycle of work, school, and school work.

  • Blood, sweat, and tears. 

Completing this thesis means everything to me. I can honestly say that this is by far one of my greatest accomplishments. The topic of my thesis may have been about the elevation of the voice of the female poet through Renaissance poetry, but it also gave me a voice that exceeded my expectations. I welcome anybody who is truly and genuinely interested in reading this piece, whether they are familiar with the topic or not. And if you aren’t familiar with it, then perhaps I could teach you a thing or two, or open your mind to a new perspective. 

If you have considered going to school for any major, not just English Literature, DO IT. It takes lots of hard work and dedication, but it's an experience you’ll be so grateful for. There is absolutely nobody in this world that can tell you that you can’t do it. Not even yourself. Based on my own personal experience, I can say that I know people doubted me. They underestimated my intelligence, my potential, and my ability to follow through with everything I said I would. Little did they know that I would move mountains. 

I’ve noticed that the people who were unable to achieve great things in their life, are the same ones who try to tell you what you are and are not capable of. Whether they say it subtly or bluntly, the underlying message still remains the same. Funny isn’t it? How those who failed to achieve greatness will try to undermine your level of greatness. These individuals try to persuade you to believe that something is “too hard” or “too much” for you to do, but in reality it's something that they cannot or could not master themselves. And even then, they’ll get mad at you for going after something they were too afraid to do. 

Don’t let the doubt that someone has for themself infect your mind and cause self-doubt. The only voice you need to listen to is your own. What you truly desire, you can achieve with the right mindset. Whether it be about school, work, relationships, self-love, etc. It really doesn’t matter what other people think or whether they believe in you or not. The only thing that matters is your own faith in yourself. What matters is that you recognize your ability to cultivate the life you want.

To put it (extremely) bluntly — fuck what anyone thinks. Go to that school that YOU want. Major in the subject that YOU want. Or don’t go to school at all if that’s really what you want. Yes, going to school can be extremely influential, but if it’s not in your heart then don’t do it. You’ll simply be miserable. Go after that job you’ve been thinking about. Start that small business you’ve dreamt of. Whatever it is, go for it. Don’t ever let anyone else hinder or modify your own life decisions, because at the end of the day you’re the one who has to live with those decisions. 

I may not be the most successful person in terms of wealth or fame or anything like that; but I am successful in my own way because I strove to do better for myself. I strove to educate myself and challenge myself. And to me, that is one of my greatest victories regardless of what anyone else thinks.

Like the average college student, I struggled at first with deciding what I wanted to do in life. I changed my major quite a few times, and I had those moments of self-doubt. It's completely normal and more common than one would think. But there comes a time where you learn to digress from the negative thoughts and indecisiveness. We are all capable of great things if we truly want them. 

Just like any other person, I went through some shit while I was in grad school, but ultimately it was my decision to not let the weight of life pull me away from my goals. I decided that I wouldn’t sit around and feel sorry for myself. I was not going to allow myself to fall victim to my life issues no matter how big or small. So I got my shit together and continued working towards my goals. Looking back now, it’s so empowering to say that you achieved something that people had their doubts about. You can do it, too. 

I may be done with my school journey, but I will always be a student. To life. To love. To all things. The goal is to never stop learning. As to you — please, don’t ever stop learning.

With ceaseless love,


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