14,471 words later

After a summer of note-taking, rearranging, deleting, and breaking down in frustrated tears, I’ve finally submitted my Creative and Critical Writing MA thesis, an exploration of my family history that blends personal memoir with critical theory.

And with that, my time at Birkbeck is over.

Putting together this thesis was a learning experience, to put it mildly. After realizing that my initial choice of topic (the farm my grandmother grew up on in Maryland) didn’t feel as compelling as I’d hoped, I had to pivot. I ended up using the farm as just one guiding element of a broader piece on honesty and communication in relationships and with the self. Once again, I was reminded that good writing emerges from trusting one’s gut rather than trying to force a conclusion or topic.

While I don’t feel 100% satisfied with my thesis – there’s room for further development – writing it taught me about writing, which I suppose is the point.

At the end of August, I was able to take a short trip to Europe, during which I touched the outside of Birkbeck (the school I would have attended in person, had it not been for Covid). Seeing the actual building, the weight of what I missed out on really hit me – but in addition to acknowledging this sadness, I had to remind myself what a wonderful, strange experience this MA has been, despite the circumstances.

Over the past year, I’ve had the chance to explore magical realism and autofiction, two bizarre territories into which I thought I’d never venture. I’m looking ahead at magical realism short story contests and other opportunities to keep my work in these genres going.

And I’ve read so, so much. Thanks to this MA, I have a much broader library of theory and reflection to draw upon in shaping my thoughts and processing my experiences. The more material I consume, the more meaningfully I feel I can engage with others and with myself.

As I’ve come to appreciate over the past year, interacting with the world as a writer isn’t just about putting words on paper. It’s about reading, talking, and listening, and then contributing to the dialogue in turn. This feeling of interconnectedness is what I love about the humanities.

With all this in mind, I have no choice but to keep writing. I’ve relocated to D.C., where I’m working as a reporter at The Cancer Letter. Even though I’m a lot more focused on fact-checking, honorifics, and short, punchy ledes than I was during my MA, I hope to carry the curiosity I fostered during at Birkbeck into my work as a journalist.

Thank you to the RMJ community for supporting this year of incredible growth and learning. The Fellowship is an experience I’d encourage any soon-to-be engineering grad to pursue, no matter where you stand career-wise.

And to all those engineering kids who think English class is ‘easy’ – you’re doing it wrong.

Megan’s first post

I would like to start off by congratulating myself for my first journal entry! Secondly, I think this is a good opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Megan, I recently completed my undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering from University of Michigan, and this fall I will pursue a MPhil in gender studies from University of Cambridge. The year after Cambridge I will return to University of Michigan to pursue a one-year MEng in aerospace engineering.

I still cannot believe that I’m leaving in four weeks, it hasn’t sunk in yet, but at the same time I daydream about the future. For example, (and this exposes how much of a nerd I am by saying this) I imagine how I will do my assignments. I daydream about walking through the city center on my way to a fancy library, hearing city bells ring around the corner, passing by groups of students hanging out and chatting, but on the way to the library finding a shady patch of grass to read there instead. I have already been working through my summer reading list like a happy camper. At first I felt overwhelmed because, honestly, who wouldn’t be when looking at a list of about twenty books, but after it washed over me I remembered that this is what it is like to be in graduate school. I am proud to say that I already read Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life, and whenever the overwhelming feeling creeps in again I remember to frame the reading as a fun, explorative process.

In my research proposal for the Cambridge application I described trying to make STEM more inclusive, that goal is still very strong in my heart, and since it is still early in the school year I purposefully keep my options open. I’ve also noticed a recurring question that I’ve struggled to answer: why did I choose gender studies? This was asked by the Roger M Jones interviewers, my peers, and by Sara Ahmed. I have my prepared response about inclusion within STEM, but now I’m reflecting on why I chose inclusion within STEM. Oddly, this was not asked by my family nor my closest friends. I assume this means that I talk about social justice often enough to the people closest to me. The next question to myself is: what makes me talk about justice in the first place? Was it how my family raised me to stand up for myself and others? Was it how I may have experienced an injustice? Did something external inspire me?

I started speaking out at a very young age– I have memories of approaching bullies on the playground in elementary school and telling them that it’s not ok to treat people disrespectfully. Of course, just like how we’re all human, I also had moments where I wasn’t brave, but it is part of life to forgive oneself and learn how to stand up for others better in the future.

I hope that this year I may reflect on my past and present to figure out why I pursue gender studies. I understand the logical steps like how I first applied for this fellowship to make STEM inclusive, then I completed my undergraduate degree, but instead I now look for more of a self-awareness and “internal reflection” answer. We shall see if I strike gold through one of my summer reading assignments, or maybe later as I choose a research topic, or maybe even later as I research and write my heart out.

Even if I never figure out what motivates me at my core, I am genuinely excited about this year. I want to learn more about myself, meet amazing people, and be better equipped to make space for those historically marginalized.