Profile in Post-Collegiate Courage: Tawnya Ravy

Calling courageous post-collegiates! Our interview series is back with a vengeance as a semi-regular blog feature!  Want to nominate a courageous post-collegiate to be featured (including yourself)?  Email postcollegiateblog [at] gmail [dotcom].

I strive to offer different perspectives on this blog, especially considering that this blog is borne out of the realization that I have no idea what I’m doing with my life and where I’m headed.  This week, I wanted to introduce you to my college classmate (and – full disclosure – current roommate/slumlord – just kidding!) Tawnya Ravy.  What makes Tawnya’s perspective so different from mine as she has used the post-collegiate years to work her way through a master’s degree and into a doctorate program at the George Washington University, all while turning around to teach students not much younger than we are!  She was kind enough to share a little advice on taking the higher education post-college path.

Tawnya, from undergraduate leader to doctoral candidate and teacher in just a few years

Hello, roomie!  For those readers who do not share a domicile with you, would you mind sharing a little about yourself.

I am originally from California, but I have now lived on the East Coast almost as long as I lived on the West Coast. I just turned 26 years old and now live in Fairfax, VA.  As you know, I attend Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia and then straight into the graduate program at GWU.   I originally wanted to pursue law but majored in English and never looked back.  

You had a pretty impressive resume coming out of college, especially with being Student Body President.  What was your initial plan when we graduated?
Luckily, my plans were pretty much set on the last day of college because I was accepted into the GWU English Graduate Program. My plan was to pursue a PhD. in literature.  I had ambitions to finish my PhD early as well as harbored dreams of traveling and teaching abroad.    I thought that graduate school would give me the flexibility and credentials to do so but have learned that finding the time was more difficult than I imagined because it eats your life!
I know a lot of our fellow classmates, as well as students across the country, who choose to wait a few years for graduate school.  What made you decide to go right away?  Do you have any regrets?
The fall before I graduated college, I was planning on attending law school. Half-way through an application process, I realized that I did not have enough passion for law to make it worthwhile. Luckily, I was already majoring in English because someone told me that it was the best preparation for the amount of reading/writing required in law school. I discussed my options with a trusted professor who suggested I begin applying to graduate schools right away. My first choice was GWU, and I heard from them fairly quickly in the application process. So far, I do not have any regrets about beginning graduate school right away, especially because I thrive in academia and was able to utilize my undergraduate experience right away, building off those four years’ of momentum.
Since I witness your day-to-day life up close, I am always impressed by the balance you strike between school (graduate classes, dissertation research) and work, which for you is teaching 2-3 classes a semester.  How do you maintain that balance and choose what opportunities to pursue?
I am flattered that you think I have struck a balance. It is much better now than it was when I first started. I was working over 40 hours a week in an unpleasant working environment while maintaining a full course load in my first year of graduate school. I realized quickly that this could not continue if I wanted to succeed in my program, so I moved back with my parents for a little while.  Now that I have an M.A. I am able to teach and continue my studies, but the fact remains that my teaching load often trumps my graduate work – something that will only get tougher down the road.
Having so much on your plate, what things have you wanted to pursue but haven’t been able to yet?
I have been fairly blessed in that I have been able to do most of what I set out to do. I am sure I had some wonderful, crazy ambitions in college to take a month’s road trip around Europe, but I have ultimately been satisfied with a week’s trip here and there. The one thing, right now, that I would love to do is teach college abroad for a year or two. I loved living abroad in college, and I want that experience again before I settle down in my adult life. The trick will be timing – when exactly to do this in the never-ending process of obtaining a PhD.
It could seem that things have gone smoothly for you – straight from college to a graduate program with teaching opportunities on the side.  But there are challenges on every post-collegiate path – can you share some of yours

Tawnya, with fellow graduate school scholars, enjoying the District's signature cherry blossom season


I would say that graduate school itself has been a great challenge, as it is for most people, but especially because I have been completely unfunded from day one. The biggest challenge for me has been achieving that desire to support myself while going to graduate school full time. Now it has evolved into balancing the desire to teach a full load and to make progress on my graduate work. At the moment, this is further complicated by the fact that I am receiving little support or guidance from my advisers. I am proud of what I have accomplished so far, but as I enter the dissertation-writing stage of my program, I am more than a little anxious about the challenges to come.
Something tells me that you are more than up to the challenge!  Obviously strong planning and hard work have contributed to your success but do you have any examples of random happenstance that have helped bring you here?
When I began the graduate program, I was fairly confident in my ability to do scholarly work, but, as an unfunded student, there was no opportunity to try my hand at teaching. One day I received a fairly random email about an interview process for new M.A. holders – a teaching opportunity. I arrived to meet my future boss with no idea what I would do in the classroom. The fact that, despite my obvious inexperience and lack of preparation, he still gave me a job is a miracle. It was this opportunity that convinced me that I have chosen the right profession. After teaching for two semesters, I had an “aha” moment when I realized that I would love nothing better than teaching at the college level.

Last week, when I interviewed Sara, she shared a couple books that inspired her own writing.  As the resident literary expert and book buff, is there a book that you think encapsulates the post-collegiate experience?

This is going to sound weird, but I often think of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim when I think of my own post-collegiate life. Officially trained for one career, Kim ends up in an entirely different role which, although exciting and rewarding, threatens to compromise his true nature and his path to a higher calling. I realize that there are many books about newly graduated people facing a new, “real” world, but Kim is the novel which, for me, speaks to the fundamental compromises we all make upon entering adulthood.

Tawnya and I, in an obligatory roommate photo at a recent luau-themed soiree

My gratitude for Tawnya for taking time out of her ridiculously busy schedule to share all this with the blog (I guess I owe her a dinner now…)  Interested in more graduate student advice?  Feel free to leave additional questions in the comments section and I’ll be sure that Tawnya answers them!

Is It Time To Quit Your Job?

As many of your readers know, I’m coming up on one year at my current job.  Prior to that, I was fired (twice!) and juggling a mix of funemployment, hustlin’, and part-time laboring.  While there have been good days and bad days in either situation, I have felt so fortunate to be gainfully employed in the last year, especially when I remember how many other Americans are not.

With that said, I find myself wondering whether its time to move on again.  This job fulfilled its purpose – it gave me a little more financial stability, I relocated to a new city (necessary for career growth and reinvigorating my social life), and it gave me a routine and structure that I needed.  BUT – there’s always a but, isn’t there – it just isn’t working for me anymore.  I’ve started the job hunt in earnest again, taking advantage of new city networking and the relatively healthy economy here in the District and may potentially have some options.

This makes it very fortuitous that I would come across this great post on one of my favorite websites, GOOD, that gives some advice on why it might be a good idea to quit your job.  Their considerations:

  • You don’t have to move home again:  This is definitely true in an urban setting – it’s easy to find roommates, cheap neighborhoods, or economy digs.  I rent from a friend who owns her own home, so my living expenses are economical and I know that I can cover my day-to-day with one of several possible alternate options on the table.  Also, I have a couple month’s rent saved up.  Do you?  You should.  (Ed. note:  This comment brought to you by your parents.)
  • Turn to the service industry:  GOOD suggests utilizing the “etc” section of Craigslist to increase your cash flow, either while you job hunt or to give you the cushion you need to quit.  I’m a firm believer that side money earned from odd jobs can often cover what you would make at your soul-crushing job – some people are made to juggle jobs instead of the 9-to-5 grind.  Not for everyone but an option that I believe in.
  • Quitting your job does not mean unemployed:  At least on paper.  If you’re concerned about gap time on your resume (and you should be, apparently), remember that you can be working without being employed.  We are a generation of freelancers, job-creaters, and career-crafters – with a high-speed Internet connection, gumption, and a strong work ethic, you can create your dream job.  Or at least have more fun than you’re having now.
  • Sometimes its just worth it:  This is the key element for me.  We have to put a value on our emotional well-being and our personal happiness.  Quitting your job can be a serious luxury but it also may be a necessity.
I’m still not entirely sure what I’m going to do yet.  I’m moving forward but not so ambitious as to put in my two weeks notice and figure it out later.  It is reassuring to know that the good people at GOOD – and many, many others – are around to remind me that sticking in a job that is not working out just because I should have a job is not a good enough reason.