Back to school

Next week I’ll be starting a PhD in the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University, and to be honest I still feel like I’m making that up.

I’m the same kid who dropped out of high school when I was fifteen years old, after failing grades seven, eight and nine. Flash forward about a million years, after going back to school at 17, graduating two years later with a high school diploma and a certificate in hairdressing, I eventually went on to do an undergraduate degree, though it took me forever to complete it. School and I hadn’t exactly clicked yet. But last year I completed a master’s in Communication Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. And that’s when everything changed for me. While completing my master’s degree I made a shocking discovery.

I like school.

No one was more surprised than me to learn that I enjoy all the writing, readings and research. And perhaps even more, all of the classroom discussions and debates with professors and students who not only have strong opinions, but informed ones as well.

The professors would assign a mountain of readings, academic articles and texts which I admit I usually had to read at least twice (okay, I’m lying, I read everything more than twice) before I could even begin to understand the author’s point, never mind try to ‘unpack’ it with other students later in class.

Which reminds me, it was in grad school that I first heard the expression ‘unpack’ used in a context other than what you do after you move.


I learned in grad school that you could claim or argue anything; as long as you can relate it to the readings, then you can’t be wrong. And when the prof says gradschooly stuff like, “Let’s unpack this narrative together,” what they often mean is, “who can best paraphrase what the author- an established academic in the field with more credibility than your intuition, gut feelings, or opinions- of the reading has claimed?”

This isn’t a bad thing. This is part of the ‘developing an informed opinion’ process. Plus it helps you develop excellent skills in paraphrasing, and being able to demonstrate that you understand what you just read. I mean, if you can make the author’s arguments you’ve obviously understood them, right? I think.

So now, just days away from starting my PhD, I admit some of my old fears are resurfacing. Will I be able to keep up with the demands of the program? Will I be able to find the time to read everything 15 times in order to ensure I (mostly) understand what the hell I just read?

I hope I’ll be ready to unpack.