“Your research interests are probably going to change a bit,” my undergraduate adviser said quizzically.
I stared back from across his office (which was maybe ten feet wide to begin with) and nodded with a mixture of pragmatic understanding and spirited defiance. Certainly, I understood that I couldn’t follow the Grand Master Plan to a T, but I could not imagine not adhering to the schema I drew up for myself: studying Women, Gender, Sexuality and Religion; obtaining a 4.0; making connections with the top professors; and then applying for and being accepted into the PhD in Religion, Gender, and Culture program with a generous stipend. (Everyone has to have a dream, people.)
You’d think that after three years of queries, lectures, classes, and numerous conversations in that tiny, beautiful office with the comfortable chair, I would have gotten it through my thick skull that my adviser was probably right, as he always was. However, being the stubborn creature that I am, experience has often been my best teacher in matters such as these, which I suspect my adviser knew. At the end of the day, he could talk to me about his experiences in graduate school until he was blue in the face—but while there may be correlations in our experiences, there was not much of a way to prepare for it beyond simply going.
One thing that I didn’t really have much of a handle on at that point was that life doesn’t stop once you start graduate school. We, as human beings, are simply not static in nature; we have to evolve and grow in order to survive. Just because I had picked a topic and written my admissions essay did not mean that my interests would not continue developing, or that I still had some obligation to do my proposed work. (On the flipside, it also does not mean that I cannot eventually come back to it.) In fact, it is what we are supposed to do—grow and change and nuance our ideas and interests along the way.
When I came to HDS, I found that I had developed an interest in practical ministry, for lack of a better term, beyond studying it from solely an academic perspective. While I found my studies completely enriching, I craved a practical component to my work—to actually be engaged in the ethical issues I was writing about. The MTS degree, for me, at least, was so focused on academia that I did not feel that I had enough time to actually apply what I was learning. The MDiv, however, allowed for practical service to be part of the overall curriculum, in addition to classes focusing on the application of religious ideas and theories to real-world situations. After some soul-searching and some advice-gathering from trusted friends and helpful administrators, I made the switch to the MDiv from the MTS.
This was not an easy decision to come to, nor an easy decision to execute. While switching degree programs does happen, it is not necessarily advisable unless there is a very good reason for doing so. It’s much better and easier to discern which program would be the better fit before applying. However, sometimes life happens (as it is wont to do), and things change, as they did for me. I was lucky enough to have it work out this time.
Switching to the MDiv was definitely the right choice for me, but this isn’t necessarily a prescriptive anecdote. Maybe you’ll stick with your plan. Maybe you never had a plan to begin with. Whatever the situation is, it’s all awesome. Long story short: don’t sweat it if your plans change once you get here. We are all here to support you in your journey, whether you have it all figured out or not. If anything, feel free to take comfort in the fact that we’re all trying to figure it out, too.