Meet Sarah Watkins:
Sarah is studying to get her Master of Arts in English. She is the President of the Clemson Longsword Guild — a club where she studies historical european martial arts and connects with the history of 14th-century sword fighting. Her dad was in the United States Navy so she moved constantly, sometimes claiming the Golden State as her home.
What led you to pursue a graduate program?
I transferred into Clemson to finish my undergraduate degree. When I heard they had an MAE with an option to focus on creative writing, I jumped on board. I love writing stories and creating worlds, and Clemson’s English department had been instrumental in helping me grow in my storytelling skills. I didn’t want to go anywhere else.
What does the graduate program entail?
It is a two-year program. The first year you take classes that encourage you in the pursuits you love and open your mind to new pursuits that you might love – or realize you do not want to pursue. The assistantship in the first year offers the opportunity to work with professors on a one-on-one basis, helping with their research or classes, or working in the writing center and getting to hone your skills of teaching students in all types of writing. The second-year narrows your focus onto the topic of your thesis – creative or theory for us MAE people. You also have the opportunity to teach two English 1030 classes as a Graduate Student of Record. I’ve just started that process this fall, and honestly, I’m really enjoying it. I didn’t really think that I’d like to be a teacher when I started out, but my experience so far teaching 1030 has made me excited about the possibility of a teaching career. As I understand it, once we’ve written our thesis (which for creative writers is a series of short stories or the beginnings of a novel) we then defend it and go forth into the world armed with our degrees, teaching experience, and more knowledge than we had before.
How do you believe you have grown in your field by continuing your education as a graduate student?
Writing continuously begets more writing, and perhaps better writing? Lol. I know that the critique and feedback that I’ve received on my academic and creative papers while a graduate student has definitely made me a better writer. But also, the relationships that I’ve formed with fellow students and professors have challenged my intellect and pushed me to expect more of myself. If I had stopped at my undergraduate degree, I would have been fine. But continuing on to a graduate degree has driven me forward and not let me settle with “fine.”
Can you explain your experience shadowing under Walt Hunter?
Being a teaching assistant for Dr. Hunter was an experience that impacted my graduate life in very positive ways. The teaching assistants were taught to lead discussion groups and we each had our own 15 students from the class that we got to know that formed our Friday discussion groups. We were given the opportunity to grade their discussion posts, but Dr. Hunter would grade the tests. So it was a low stakes way for us to learn without getting overwhelmed. This experience enabled me to have a solid foundation for when I started teaching on my own this semester. I highly suggest it for any English grad student. If you’re thinking about TA’ing, do it.
What was your biggest takeaway from this experience?
Dr. Hunter prepared my fellow TA’s, Emma Stanley, Kaitlin Samons and I, to teach. But not just to stand up in front of a classroom (an experience that made my first day teaching this fall so much less threatening), but to care about your students and communicate with your colleagues. Dr. Hunter prepared us to grade and lead classes in discussion, but he also showed us how to share your passions with students. And even how to share those things that students need to learn, but that you might not be so passionate about. This was inordinately helpful in making my first day teaching, low stress and exciting.
What is your biggest piece of advice to someone unsure about pursuing a graduate program?
Don’t do it on a whim. Make sure this is something you want. Be sure that what you’re getting out of the program is going to be meaningful to you. Graduate degrees are a lot of time, effort, money and soul, and I wouldn’t go into it lightly. Consider what you want to get out of it, and see if a graduate program will do that for you. And if it will – then dive in with both feet.
Written by: Ashley Jones