Ch-ch-ch-Changes: Transitioning from MA to PhD; Albuquerque to Boston

Diana Filar is a doctoral student in the Department of English at Brandeis University, with a particular interest in the contemporary immigrant novel. She received her MA at University of New Mexico this past spring semester and will be sorely missed! Follow her on Twitter @DianaFilarski


When Kelly asked me to guest blog, I knew immediately what I would write about: this summer’s transition period and the time in between my Master’s program and PhD program. Right now, I am still in Albuquerque, where I got my MA at the University of New Mexico (and met Kelly!). I have plenty of great things to say about UNM: I met a lot of brilliant and helpful faculty, I learned what going to grad school actually means, and I filled in a lot of gaps in my literary periodization knowledge. Basically, I got a clue and confirmed that I want to pursue an academic career.

And I will also miss Road Runners. These guys are too cool.

Unfortunately, my long term boyfriend and I don’t love Albuquerque (mountains, chile, and weather aside), and when applying to PhD programs last year, I put a lot of emphasis on place (as well as the other important factors, of course!). Whether or not the experts advise for or against this was less relevant to me than knowing I had to live somewhere for the next five years while getting my doctorate – a difficult feat.

So at the end of this month, I am moving to the Boston area to attend Brandeis University for my PhD in American literature. I am from the east coast and lived in Boston before, and I have to say it’s one of my favorite places. I also was lucky enough to visit Brandeis before accepting their offer and really got the sense that it was the right place for me. That being said, there are a few elements of this transition period that are giving me a lot to think (read: stress) about.

First Things First

To be honest, I haven’t spent as much time thinking about school, my program, new colleagues and advisors, and classes (well, I have spent SOME time thinking about it) as I have been trying to plan my move. Moving across the country is an endeavor, and I know, having already done it once in just a Honda Civic with my boyfriend and all of our stuff. Relocation of any kind makes the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory Scale as one of the most anxiety producing life events. We plan on being in Boston by August 1st so we can get settled and acclimated before school begins at the end of the month (on my birthday!). That is three weeks away, and we still don’t have a place to live. We are searching and applying like mad, but things keep not working out or falling through or being too much money (I could go on a rant about rental pricing, neoliberalism, and gentrification on a grad student’s budget but that’s another post). Right now, having a home is priority number one.

The other details of the move are in various states of completion. We have a rental truck and a dolly to tow our car. I know where to get free moving boxes. Our friends said they’d help. And I won’t be working the week before we leave so all the packing can be complete. On the negative side, we need to actually do that packing, get our current apartment in tip top shape so our landlord will return the security deposit to its rightful owners, and plan the road trip – where to stop, what to see, where to stay. I wish I got a reward for moving successfully cross-country twice in three years, but alas.

Writing Goals

Aside from all the moving responsibilities, summer is usually a time when academics, including myself, overcommit to a lot of projects and self-promises about those projects’ completion. Kelly has written about the writing group we are in, and like everyone else, I had a bunch of writing goals for those lazy, hazy days of summer. I stayed somewhat realistic based on deadlines and tried not to cry about how writing emails to landlords and realtors counted as writing.

That being said, all my goals for the summer were all near completion even before “vacation” began. The transition aspect of writing comes in when I consider that the people (professors, mentors, writing group friends) who helped me get my articles and projects to their current states will no longer be as available to help me once I start at Brandeis. They will all still be at UNM or elsewhere, and while I know I could reach out, I also know I need to be making new professional relationships.


K Bye, UNM!

But how do I explain what I did in a paper for a class in Spring 2014 and the various stages that essay has been through and the (very helpful!) reader responses from a journal rejection to a person who doesn’t know me and my overarching research goals–i.e. supposed dissertation topic. It’s daunting to consider editing this above mentioned rejection in Boston. It’s almost as if my ideas have to move along with my physical body. They also need to find a home in this new place. If anyone has any advice on how to carry writing or ideas over from one institution to the next, I’m all ears. Otherwise, I will flail under I figure it out myself.

Differences between Programs

At UNM, I was awarded a Teaching Assistantship which offered me a stipend and full tuition remission. For this, I am very grateful as so many standalone Master’s programs do not provide this kind of funding. That being said, as much as I love teaching (especially this past year, once I got the hang of it), I am glad that I won’t have to teach in my first year at Brandeis. I can’t help but think ALL THAT TIME FOR READING. JUST FOR ME. This may sound selfish, but I really only started graduate school for me, and I think if anyone starts for anyone or anything but themselves, they may be getting into some trouble.

I can’t help thinking that I WILL HAVE SO MUCH FREE TIME (for reading!) even though I know in my heart of hearts that I will still not actually have this mystical, imagined amount of “free” time. Even so, I am still excited for my coursework at Brandeis. This fall I will be taking three classes: Introduction to Literary and Cultural Studies, Race, Desire, & the Literary Imagination, and Gender & the Genealogy of the Novel. Brandeis also has a joint program with Women’s Studies, so I plan on cross-completing courses in the departments to get a second Master’s in Women’s Studies.


On a less academic note (but not entirely since humans are social creatures who need a reprieve from their exhausting graduate work) I am – to put it vulnerably – nervous about making new friends. I realize that school is one of the easiest places to make new friends, but it’s still stressful. I feel like this every time I leave an old place for a new place, and every time it ends up working out, but I cannot help lament that I do not want to let my “old” friends go. And of course, I don’t have to and we will keep in touch – conferences are good for that, and also cell phones. But I am still really sad to say goodbye to the wonderful people I met in Albuquerque.


What do you call writing group without the writing? FRIENDS.

I have even said to them “I don’t want to make new friends! I just won’t!” which not only sounds insane, but also won’t be true. Moreover, I still have friends in Boston from when I lived there before. (Shout out to them for helping with the apartment hunt!) That in itself, though, is another point of transition. Many of them stuck around Boston for the last three years after undergrad. I, on the other hand, moved to Vermont and then New Mexico. So now, a few of them are ready to move on themselves, and I selfishly tell them they’re not allowed to go. Again, I don’t want to make new friends! (If any Brandeis people read this, I’m lying. I want to be your friend). And since I haven’t lived in Boston for a few years and will be living in a totally different part of town, in a completely different phase of my life, it really does feel like starting over, albeit with some friendly support.

I am a pretty emotional person (as you can probably already tell), but to put it simply, I understandably feel excited and nervous, but right now more nervous than not. I’m just going to keep telling myself everything will magically fall into place once I find an apartment.

Note: Diana did eventually find a place to live in the Boston area!

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