What’s up Alum? – Taylor Asen

2 Dec

Taylor Asen, CCAS and UHP '06

Taylor Asen, CCAS ’06, graduated from the University Honors Program summa cum laude.  An English major with departmental honors and a Classics minor, Taylor received his masters in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and is currently a student at Yale Law School graduating in 2012.

When I was at GW, it never occurred to me that I would do anything other than think and write about literature for the rest of my life.  When I left college, I enrolled in a Ph.D. program in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where I intended to spend the next six years of my life.

After I received my Master’s degree, I very much surprised myself by deciding to leave graduate school. It was a decision that, nearly five years later, I am surer than ever was the right one, although to this day I have trouble articulating exactly why I left.  When my colleagues at law school find out I am a “graduate school dropout” (an attribute that is strangely pedestrian at Yale), they often ask me what I didn’t like about it, and are then surprised to hear that, in fact, I had a wonderful time there.  I worked with engaging and kind professors, and enjoyed the company of my peers.  Indeed, my problem wasn’t that I stopped enjoying thinking, talking, and writing about literature, but rather that this enjoyment was all that I had. Until I enrolled in graduate school, I had never thought about what it really meant to be in a professional school on a track towards becoming a professional academic.  I had never really thought much about what type of career I wanted at all.  When I began to learn more about it, I came to see that working in academia is an incredibly grueling profession, requiring a level of commitment to the subject matter that I simply did not have.  I remember quite distinctly when I decided to leave: It was when I told my mentor at Columbia that I was having some misgivings, and she replied, “This is a profession for people who can’t imagine themselves doing anything else.  If you can, then do.”  I could, so I did.

When I speak to my friends from Columbia (who are now finishing up their dissertations), it is hard not to feel small pangs of envy and regret.  And yet, while law school is by no means a perfect place, it is, I now know, the right place for me.  Moreover, giving up something as a fully funded Ph.D. program—the thing that was, up until the moment I left it, my dream—continues to keep me honest in law school.  It has kept me, for instance, from taking the ever-tempting high paying job at a corporate law firm.  After all, while I may not be quite sure what I will end up doing for a living, here is one thing I know for sure: I did not leave a life of reading Charles Dickens and George Elliot so I could make a living doing something I cared nothing about.

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2 Responses to “What’s up Alum? – Taylor Asen”

  1. Julia December 2, 2010 at 5:31 pm #

    Thank you for posting this-especially at a time when I know I’m having trouble deciding which way to turn.

    Julia

    • Mara March 23, 2011 at 8:42 am #

      Me too! I went directly from earning my undergraduate biology degree into a PhD program in cell and molecular biology… I had no idea what I was getting into. I didn’t love lab research and the life of academia enough to put up with the headaches and heartaches that accompanied it. I earned my MS instead, and was lucky enough to find some “alternative careers in science” that my graduate professors had never hinted at. Years later, I’m very happy with my chosen field. Interestingly, about 20% of my classmates left before finishing their PhDs, and about half of those who finished opted for non-academic research careers. I would advise anyone considering graduate school to take a year (or more) after college to work in that field, and then determine whether a graduate degree is necessary or whether a variety of work experiences would be more helpful.

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