Instead of going to Cancun or visiting my cousins in Florida for Spring Break, I left Indiana University and went back to my home state of Maryland. I was able to hang out with friends and see my charming mother and brother again. Beyond sharing food and pleasantries with the people I love, I had the opportunity to attend The 18th annual National Conference for McNair Scholars and Undergraduate Research. The McNair program is an intensive undergraduate research program in which students conduct research through guided mentorship from a faculty member(s) and learn about the graduate school process. This is all to encourage students to apply to graduate school to ascertain their PhD. I am an alum of the McNair program from the University of Maryland, College Park, which is where this particular conference is held every year.
I was invited back to be a panelist for the graduate student panel. Three other graduate students and I, each at various stages in graduate school, spoke to our experiences and answered questions from the audience. Of course, I let it be known that I am a gamer who is a PhD student studying video game culture. Though the conversation that I engaged in was fun, I want to jump to what happened after the panel was over. Following the graduate student panel, there is always a graduate school fair, which has about 50 or so colleges/universities from all over the country that come to share information about their graduate programs. As I meandered through the fair, a student approached me with the utmost enthusiasm and interest in my academic journey and asked how I ended up studying what I do in graduate school. I briefly informed him on the series of events that took place that allowed me to study video game culture. He was astonished. It was at that moment that I felt validated in my academic career.
I am not going to lie, this semester has really pushed me to think in new ways, but the stress of coursework and being a teaching assistant has been taxing. For almost a month, I felt defeated, exhausted, and just plain stupid. I had to convince myself not to skip class almost every morning.
So when that student expressed excitement and slight bewilderment, I felt uplifted, and that feeling lasted throughout the entire conference. It felt great to have a fellow gamer applaud my efforts of turning my hobby of gaming into an academic pursuit. To have my work acknowledged by someone who is a part of the community that I am researching not only validates myself as a gamer-identified person, but also my work as an academic.
It is possible to study what you want and attend academic settings that cater to your interests. In this case, this setting was highly multidisciplinary! Although this was an environment that I was familiar with, returning as a freshly minted PhD student was a different experience. I look forward to attending the McNair conference next year, as well as future conferences as a gamer with a doctorate degree.