Status Update: Entering M.A. Program at Stanford Classics

I am excited to be starting graduate classes at the Stanford Classics department in a few weeks. It’s been a dream of mine to study Classics at the graduate level, and I was ecstatic to hear earlier this year that I’d been accepted to pursue an M.A. degree in Classical Languages and Literature at Stanford. Alongside the excitement of attaining my goals, I am feeling a bit of anxiety, which is to be expected for anyone entering a new phase of their life, and which I’m sure is true of graduate students, who must spend time acclimating to a new, more intensive academic environment.

View of the Stanford Memorial Church from the Classics department. Photo credit: http://anhthuvulephotography.wordpress.com/

While applying, I had worked hard to build myself up as a scholar. I listed all the achievements that could contribute to graduate study in my CV and clearly identified my skills, reasons for studying Classics, and specific research goals in my statement of purpose. Now that I have been accepted, I hope to reach the standards I laid out for myself in the application.

I’ve been reviewing Greek by working through this commentary of Iliad book 6.

My first step is to ensure that my Greek and Latin abilities are at the right level. I need to figure out how to take care of the requirement for reading knowledge of French, needed for academic articles. I am also asking myself how well I can handle the intensity of a graduate program, and if there are any additional areas of background knowledge I need to review or skills I have to practice, after being out of school for the past two years.

So there are many things to think about, though not all these concerns are too serious; I am sure that with practice and time, I can return back into the familiar flow and structure of an academic program. I just have to trust in my own abilities.

But beyond the ordinary issues confronting a grad student, I must face a unique set of challenges presented by my disability. I’ve written about my disability from an identity standpoint, but on a basic level, these difficulties are physical and logistical, having to do with my health.

My health and mobility have gradually declined over the years, yet here I am entering a program that represents an increase in academic difficulty, and so, the question is how well I can handle that greater work load in terms of physical energy and health. Fortunately, like at Santa Clara University, Stanford’s Office of Accessible Education (OAE) has provided me with a variety of extremely useful disability accommodations. All I had to do was submit medical notes from my doctor for them to review.

The most essential accommodation is part-time enrollment, which means I can sign up for a lower number of credits than other students, and can conserve my energy and health by taking on a lighter load of classes. I am permitted to tackle a one-year program in three years, at a pace of one class per quarter. To avoid tiring myself out taking notes, I am allowed a notetaker, a fellow student who will share copies of his or her notes with me, as well as the opportunity to audio record lectures and listen to them again later.

Access to electronic copies of books on a computer is incredibly helpful too. Working with large and heavy physical books while writing or doing research is a struggle for me, so to alleviate that, OAE either receives an e-book from the publisher or scans the book into a pdf for me. This process can be a huge lifesaver, and is one more example of the resources available at university setting that allow disabled students greater independence in pursuing their academic goals.

The key for handling these kinds of concerns is to ensure I am making use of all the resources and accommodations available to me and to not be afraid to ask for the assistance I need. I’ve learned the importance of slowing down, relaxing, and enjoying my time in school, in order to avoid overworking myself.

When it comes to my larger decision to pursue graduate-level study, there are some factors beyond my control. For instance, since my circumstances limit me geographically, it was not practical to apply to many schools across the nation.

If my main passion is to continue studying Greek and Latin literature, why not pursue a PhD program? I often ask myself that question. Here, my disability is a motivating factor as well as a limiting factor: it pushes me to attain my dreams in the here-and-now by doing work that is significant to me, which is part of why I am entering a graduate program. But since it is hard to say how long my health will last, I can’t commit to a long-term PhD program, as much as I would love to.

In the end, the balance of an M.A. program was the best choice for me, though it’s imperfect: the M.A. degree requires me to focus on one language over another, so I won’t have as many chances to work on the Latin poets. Sorry about that, Vergil and Ovid!

To help ease this transitional period, I’ve decided to focus on settling into the program for the first quarter by sticking to my comfort zone. So, none of the more challenging seminars quite yet. I’ll be taking an advanced reading course in Greek literature, similar to what I’ve taken before.

Recent book by Prof. Anastasia-Erasmia Peponi

The class offered this quarter is Greek Erotic Prose and Poetry with Prof. Anastasia-Erasmia Peponi who works on Greek aesthetic perception in poetry and philosophical texts.

We’re going to first compare the Symposia of Xenophon and Plato, two texts offering philosophical discussions of passion and desire, in the interesting setting of a Greek drinking party, where as a side benefit we’ll get to observe the fictionalized antics of various (in)famous personalities from ancient Athens, from Socrates to Alcibiades: that should be quite fun.

Then, we’re going to move on to the lyric poets, for a close look at their approach to the theme of eros. I’m looking forward to learning more about Sappho, one of the few female poets from the ancient world whose work still survives (alongside Sulpicia, the female Roman elegist). She offers a women’s voice within a pool of Classical texts otherwise dominated by male authors, so it should be a fascinating experience to study that unique perspective.

One of the commentaries we’ll be using in class

This will be a nice mix of prose and poetry for my first quarter. It’d be useful to review Greek prose, since I’ve not had as much exposure to it through the course of my education, but meanwhile, I get to continue working on Greek poetry, which is my greater area of interest.

So, that is an overview of what is coming up for me in the fall and what it’s been like preparing to enter graduate school. At some point, I will start thinking about ideas for my Master’s thesis and which texts I’d like to focus on: either the Homeric epics, or a Greek tragedy. Definitely a hard choice, but I don’t need to decide right away. For now, the plan is to proceed one quarter at a time.

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