Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

Higher-Higher Education

I get it. I really do. I'm approaching the end of my MA program. Classes end in 4 weeks, my thesis translation will be done over the summer, then a quick administrative break before I (fingers crossed!) get my degree in the fall. So of course the next logical step is for people to start asking me about going for a PhD.

Or is it?

Guys, that's a long degree. This MA program that I'm doing? Only a year long. One calendar year. Do you realize how different that is from a 5-7+ year doctoral program? One of the reasons I chose the University of Rochester's MALTS program was because of its brevity. Before applying to the program, I already knew that I wanted to work full-time as a freelance literary translator. After having completed almost two years of pretty much that exact thing, I could have quite easily continued along that career path without going back for an advanced degree. But I wanted the training, I wanted the feedback, I wanted the new experiences, and I wanted the contacts, all without taking a huge gaping break in the professional progress I'd been making.

And you know what? All of those boxes, all those criteria for going back to school, they all got checked off. I made a very good decision. Now, I want to continue along with my plan, not stay in school for another eon. I have a grand master plan, people. Let me do it. (It's not evil, I swear.)

But I get why people are asking me about PhD programs. Literary translation is a very scholarly thing. (Come on, it's right there in the name: literary.) One next logical step would be a PhD in French Literature. And, weirdly enough, it's almost more practical. A guaranteed position for the next 5-7 years, tuition paid, stipend included, working time, and time to do your own work. Sure, you have to take on some extra duties, some things outside of merely translating, in order to do your job, to get your degree, to get tenure . . . But with so many people going to college these days, the MA has become the new BA, and the BA has become the new high school diploma. So the PhD is the new MA, right?

Still, not for me. I don't want to be an academic. I have the utmost respect for my professors, and some (well, most, actually) of the greatest translators I know are professors first. But I want to prove that you can just be a literary translator, completely freelance. It's not a walk in the park: as poorly as some academics get paid, translators tend to get paid even less. And I'm certainly not supporting myself yet. But I'll get there.

And if I change my mind later on and get completely wooed by the idea of a doctorate, I can always go back to school. But for now, I'm staying in Rochester, heading up ELTNA, translating, and doing all the other fun projects that come my way.