Okay, I’ve got (another) Master’s Degree. Now what?

Left: Masters of Library and Information Studies, 2008
Right: Masters of Fine Art in Writing, 2019

When I showed my counselor two side-by-side pictures of me, one on graduation day in 2008 when I earned my Master’s degree in Library and Information Studies, and the other taken 11 years later, when I completed my Masters of Fine Arts in Writing, she pointed to the one of my younger self and asked, “What were her hopes and dreams?”

I replied without hesitation. “To work as an academic librarian at the University of British Columbia (UBC) or my alma mater, Simon Fraser University (SFU). The plan is to have my university eventually support me in earning my doctorate in communications or a related field. In the future, I want to be a selfless educator who help troubled kids not only academically but also humanely, like my mentor Roman had done.”

However, my hopes and dreams were dashed, and the plan derailed when I realized 2008 was a terrible year to finish grad school. With the looming financial crisis, it was impossible for a new graduate like me to find library work in BC, let alone in Canada or the US. To stay afloat, I wrote invoices for a plumbing company, barely making enough to pay rent. Four months after graduation, when the Dean of Libraries at Zayed University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, offered me the Reference and Instruction Librarian position, I leaped on the opportunity. I left behind a boyfriend, my friends, and a fully furnished apartment. I promised myself that I would return home after one year.

Eleven years later, I am still abroad. Though Vancouver will always be home in my heart, I’ve settled in Hong Kong for the last seven years. I’ve almost forgotten about my Ph.D. dream and instead, earned two more master’s degrees. From 2008 to 2017, I no longer strived to be a professor–instead, as a librarian, I taught classes on research skills and creating citations in different styles. I was tired of teaching the same boring classes and worn out by the politics of wherever I worked.

In the summer of 2017, started to transit from a career in librarianship to one in writing. After ten years of libraries, I found the work uninspiring. I started taking e-Learning classes at SCAD, and after a couple of writing courses, I decided to pursue writing full-time. I wanted to tell unique stories, document the vastness of the human condition, and connect with readers and other writers around the globe. During my studies, I explored different writing careers. I thought about becoming an editor for a literary magazine or be the founder of my own publication. Then I applied for numerous jobs as editors and staff writers. At some point, I even considered looking for work as a copywriter. However, there was always a nagging voice inside my head: I didn’t want any of these jobs.

For the last two years, as I sat at my desk working on freelance projects, writing my thesis (a collection of memoir-essays titled In the Shadow of the Middle Kingdom), and applying for writing jobs, I started to miss the community aspect of librarianship. Freelance writing is a lonely job and I began to miss having colleagues and students around me. I miss building collections and organizing events. I miss making a difference in people’s information literacy and reading habits. I also recognized, that as long as I am at the mercy of my clients, I may not have the mental and emotional bandwidth to pursue my own writing projects. At the same time, I also came to the conclusion that I would earn more working as a librarian than as a junior editor or writer in the publishing/media world. That’s when I decided that working at the library and writing on the side would be the best option for me.

I didn’t know as a 25-year-old that hopes and dreams could change. Back then, I couldn’t imagine being anything but an academic librarian and eventually becoming a professor. I didn’t anticipate that 11 years later that I would be able to look back not only to my 25-year-old self but go back even further–to revisit the hopes and dreams of my 22-year-old self. Back then, I wanted to be a writer but I never articulated this thought beyond my journal because I thought my aspiration was not practical or feasible. Through a lot of soul searching in the last couple of years, I started to take my 22-year-old self more seriously and gave her the space to hope and dream. Today, as a 36-year-old, I’ve gathered all of my hopes and dreams and begin to execute them: To write, to be paid to write, and eventually become a writing professor in a university.

Zadie Smith at SCAD Show in Atlanta, Winter 2018.

In addition to Roman, who I have admired and respected since meeting him as a troubled 19-year-old undergraduate student, my role model is Zadie Smith. I had the pleasure of meeting her in Atlanta when she was touring for her collection of essays, Feel Free. Her talk was engaging and afterward, she chatted with every single person who lined up to have their books signed. I want to be like Zadie Smith, a gracious and genuine individual, an accomplished writer, an admired professor, and an inspiration to many. As for my plan? I am going back to the library. At the end of this month, I will be the Library Manager at Discovery College, where I hope to mentor students, organize fun and educational events, and help the next generation to be critical and independent thinkers. After work and on school holidays, I will write, I will edit, I will submit my essays and stories far and wide. I know it’s a tough road ahead, but I welcome the challenges with open arms.

Now, I know that I am strong enough to be the kind of writer I want to be, on my own terms and chosen path. It took a long time to get here, but I sincerely hope that I can be an inspiration to those of you who have hopes and dreams that you’re afraid to pursue. I have been fortunate to have resources and opportunities, but without the soul searching and hard work along the way, I couldn’t have been where I am today. For those of you aspiring writers, artists, designers, and creative types, I want to tell you (as an older recent graduate): Hope and dreams can change and plans can divert. But I urge you to follow your heart, create (and update) your plan, and always be your best self.

One Reply to “Okay, I’ve got (another) Master’s Degree. Now what?”

  1. I love your writing! I always knew you were one of the smartest people I’ve ever known as well. Keep striving for the best and educating yourself!

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