Italian Studies: To Pursue or not to Pursue?
by Meghri Doumanian
When asked where I am today in my studies, there is one reaction that I get from everyone. “Master’s in Italian Studies! How exciting! But, what for?” There are many factors that led me to pursue my education in Italian studies, rather than English Literature, or more importantly, Law. When I changed my mind about pursuing a Law degree, and chose the Liberal Arts path, my loved ones were sure it was a phase bound to pass. They would constantly remind me of how young I am, and that it is fine to explore my options. However, one thing they have trouble understanding to this day is why I chose to stay in Languages, Literatures, and Arts, let alone pursue a higher degree in Italian Studies.
Why Did I Decide to Get a Master’s Degree in The First Place?
The main reason is because I genuinely fell in love with Italian culture and literature, and the second reason is because I want to become a professor, which requires a Ph.D. Both things combined, the chances for me to change my mind are slim to none. I understand the confusion of my loved ones, for they share the same concerns that I had when I started my Bachelor’s degree. A double major in English Literature and Italian Studies feels uncertain. While I watched my friends graduate from Business programs, HR, Law, and many others that allowed them to finish their Bachelor’s degree in three years, and opened the door to great jobs, I was still studying, and spending sleepless nights finishing the required readings for certain classes. However, I do believe that we millennials are so drawn by the culture of speed around us that we tend to forget the beauty of the Liberal Arts, and all that they have to offer. I do not say this because I am a current MA student, but rather from what I have noticed as one. We spend too much time worrying, with very good reasons, about our finances, about our parents’ ideas of us and our jobs — especially if we happen to be first generation Canadians and children of immigrants — that we do not take a moment to explore and discover ourselves in order to study what we really desire.
What to Expect When Being Admitted as A Master’s Student in Italian Studies?
The transition from a Bachelor’s to a Master’s is confusing, and difficult. First, it is important to examine how the program works in the university that you are admitted in. Each University requires a certain amount of credits for their MA degree. Take your time, talk to your advisor, and plan accordingly. Remember that you are in charge of your degree, which means that it is your responsibility to verify all the guidelines, attend orientations, make connections, and get to know your professors. Yes, it sounds like a lot, but all of it sorts itself out if you make sure to attend the orientations. These introductory sessions will help you find your connections, and find out about graduate student life, which is quite different from that of an undergraduate. Once you have those steps covered, it is time to focus on your schedule.
After talking to my advisor, reading the information available on my university’s website over and over, I started planning. At my university, Italian Studies is offered in two streams: the thesis option, and the research option. In my case, the thesis option requires fewer course credits than that of the research option, because the thesis in itself is worth a bunch. However, the research stream lets you focus on two various topics, and present two different researches at the end of your degree. Given that I was unsure at first which stream to follow, I decided to take the maximum course credits that I could in the first year, so that regardless of which stream I decided to follow, my second year would be focused on only my thesis, or only my research papers. As smart a decision as this may seem, taking too many courses at once is a personal choice, and I do not necessarily recommend future MA students to do it. It is important to consider another factor that will chip away at your time as an MA student. Little did I know that MA seminars are set up in such a way that students are expected to write a research paper in each course. These seminar courses teach students new methods of research and writing. The workload of one seminar course is the equivalent of two undergraduate courses, something that students discover only after taking their first seminar courses. Attendance is mandatory, and students cannot fall behind. Were I to give only one piece of advice for future MA students, it would be to not underestimate the workload of graduate seminar courses, and to listen to your supervisors.
Graduate Studies in Italian is usually a small program across universities, where students can get to know each other faster than expected. It is important to be active in the Graduate Students’ Associations, and in your department. Even if you are not a member, attendance and showing presence during meetings and social events will help you to get to know what is happening outside of your program, and within the department, which will also give you way to make more connections. Throughout the school year there will be many emails sent about conferences, and calls for papers (CFP). If a conference or lecture interests you, attend it with no hesitation. If the CFP offers you an opportunity to submit one of your papers, submit it with no hesitation. The more you let other students and professors know about your interests and researches, the better your chances at presenting at conferences, or even being a part of organizing some. This will reflect positively on your resume, and in recommendation letters if needed. However, all of the above are in your hands, and your responsibility. If you wish to be a less present and more silent student, that is up to you and not a bad idea either, as long as you excel in your research and seminar courses. But one thing is for sure, do not hesitate to ask your questions when needed. Do not be ashamed to ask for help in certain things from fellow graduate students, colleagues, professors and advisors. Everyone helps each other, and that is the beauty of completing a graduate degree. 3E Centre for Italian Culture also offers free consultation on this topic to all those interested.
What Can I Do With a Master’s in Italian Studies?
To be honest, I am still discovering the answer to that question. In my case, since my mind is set and I want to become a professor, I am taking the generic route to pursue my Ph.D after my MA. However, there are many job opportunities offered that only require a Master’s degree. For one, if you are a Québec resident, you can always teach Italian language and content courses at CEGEP or at Italian cultural centres, like 3E Centre for Italian Culture. This is also where having a second major, minor, or other interests come in handy. For example, in my case, I discovered that English Literature and Italian Literature overlap more than one would think. English and Italian authors have influenced each other often in terms of creating new genres, content, and sometimes simply by inspiration. My background in English Literature helped me immensely in shaping my thesis.
Moreover, if you have either a minor or major in other programs, they will always and without a doubt come in handy in opening doors for amazing job opportunities. An MA in Italian Studies with a background in Political Science or experience in Model UN will help you get a job in either the UN, or the Italian Embassy. If you do not have another background, and only an MA in Italian Studies, there is no reason to freak out either. With your education, chances are you can get a job in printing, publishing, editing, translation, and, with a little additional training, museum studies, too.
Finding a job with an MA in Italian Studies will not be a walk in the park, but that does not mean that it will get you nowhere. Quite the opposite, many alumni have made their way into the NY times, created and founded their own Academic Platforms, published books, and been invited to lectures in various countries and universities. All you have to do is be resilient, and patient.
Final Words of Advice
Do not let the uncertainty that an MA in Italian Studies represents be a factor for you to change your mind. It is true that it does not fit the standard of our fast changing culture, but it is rich in all the various things it has to offer. If you are passionate, and ready to take on the challenge, jump in, because it is not a dead end. In bocca al lupo!
3E Centre for Italian Culture offers advanced specialization courses and valuable training in foreign language instruction for Italian majors, as well as MA and Ph.D. students of Italian language and literature. Would you like to learn more or join the 3E team? Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.