Life After Grad School: Reflections on Transitions, Working in Higher Education, and History

Wed, 06/05/24
Marina Ortiz

The morning of the day I am writing this, I walked up College Ave and approached the Westcott gate and fountain. There is something satisfying about this daily trek—taking in the beautiful sight. Life after graduation has been a hard adjustment. I began my bachelor’s degree in 2011 and graduated with my PhD in History in Spring 2023. Since graduating with my PhD, I have been working for The Graduate School at FSU. There are times it feels like a fundamental piece of me is missing. It is a big transition in several ways, one I was simultaneously prepared and unprepared for. After spending a year on campus as a full-time employee, I am finally beginning to feel like I belong at FSU in a non-student capacity. And it is rewarding to be able to help current graduate students as someone who understands the experience.

I am currently a Manuscript Clearance Advisor. I assist and advise graduate students from across the university with formatting of their theses, treatises, and dissertations. My role is to work with the students to polish their manuscripts to meet The Graduate School’s Guidelines and Requirements. The team I am on is also responsible for several forms required for graduation, mostly related to the Defense. Throughout my time in this position, I have learned a lot about how other fields and programs work, university procedures, and about myself. Though I don’t work exclusively with History students, nor even just the Humanities in general, I have found that my time in the History graduate program at FSU prepared me for this role. When we talk about the relevance of a history degree, we always talk about transferrable skills. This isn’t just a catch phrase to help alleviate understandable anxiety related to the job market. We, as historians, have a lot to offer beyond our discipline. Throughout my coursework, teaching, and researching, I learned to refine my organizational skills and eye for detail. Both are critical for the role I am in today. Assisting with the FSU History Department’s social media team afforded me an entirely different skillset that has allowed me to work on projects that I hope will have an impact on future students going through the Manuscript Clearance Process. Though it isn’t history-specific, a love for research has kept me energized as I assist graduate students with their own scholarship.

Working in Higher Education at the administrative level requires a careful balance of upholding expectations and policy while still approaching students with compassion. I’m not so far removed from the process that I don’t remember the emotional turmoil that was the last few months of my PhD program! It is a stressful time, and in this way, I am qualified to help put students at ease by explaining expectations to them clearly and providing empathetic advising. Observing the struggles and roadblocks students encounter has made me profoundly grateful for the rigorous nature of the History program as well as the unparalleled support from the department’s staff, especially Anne Kozar. In a stressful time, it is relieving to have that support system to keep you on track and motivated. I hope that in my small way, I am able to do that for the students I assist as well.

My tenure as a doctoral student is called upon with relative frequency at The Graduate School. Since I work with formatting, I’m able to reference the physical copies of my dissertation as an example of what a published and printed version looks like, which stresses the importance of dimensions and margins. Because I went through this myself, my colleagues didn’t have to “translate” all the moving parts of the job to me. I’m able to reference my experience when advising students, which seems to make them feel understood and encouraged. And currently, I am spearheading a new Canvas course for Manuscript Clearance, hopefully building something that will help future students through the process. It is set to launch this summer, and it’s something I would have wanted as a doctoral student.

In my post-grad school life, I have found myself missing history. It took me a while after defending to even want to look at anything French Revolution-related again. Now I think about it fondly, but with a feeling of disconnectedness. Colleagues will ask me random questions, and I find myself blossoming when I get to talk about it. So, I’ve found ways to interact with history-related content, even though I’m more distanced from it now. Whether it is watching the newer Napoleon film or reading historical fiction like Mademoiselle Revolution, I’m able to bridge the gap between my two selves—the historian and the Manuscript Clearance Advisor. I’ve even dabbled in writing historical fiction, which has let me flex my creative muscles while dipping back in to the primary sources I poured through during my dissertation research. This has been essential for me, because history is such a large part of my identity in a way I wasn’t quite aware of before graduating. I’ve had moments of identity crisis where I worry that I’m somehow “lesser-than” because I didn’t end up in my field right out of grad school. I’ve worried that it is something people may judge me for. But getting my PhD equipped me with the tools and background to approach my work confidently and competently. My training as a historian bleeds into my day-to-day tasks. Even if I am not digging through dusty archival records or translating French-language sources, I am using my research skills often. The analytical skills I gained have helped with problem solving. It’s who I am, no matter what my job title.

On May 3rd of this year, I was able to assist with the doctoral hooding ceremony. It was surreal being back in the Civic Center, a sea of garnet, gold, and black regalia surrounding me. Being on the other side of the event made me experience many emotions—nostalgia, pride for the students, happiness, and even a bit of melancholy. But overall, I felt honored to be able to watch the students I worked with all semester walk across the stage and be hooded. I also was able to see some close friends from the History department walk. It was a full-circle occasion. In the end, my job is to help graduate students make it to that moment. Manuscript Clearance is one of the last hurdles before graduation, and it can be tedious and stressful. I’ve been in their shoes, and I can’t help but be proud of them as they get to experience the moment they’ve been working towards for years.