A passion for academia: David Maxson ’10 describes his journey to becoming a Ph.D. Candidate in Rhetoric at Penn State
When strangers ask me why I’m pursuing a graduate degree instead of getting a job, I tell them that I have been in college my entire life and I plan to stay in college. This, of course, is not entirely true, but it makes a good story, and good stories are why I study rhetoric.
Before kindergarten, my parents moved me and my brother to Bloomington, Indiana where my dad (Dr. Rick Maxson of Drury University) got his Ph.D. My brother, Stan and I grew up in campus apartments and made friends with other kids whose parents were also pursuing graduate degrees. We were basically under-undergraduates. The experience of living on a college campus stuck with me from elementary school all the way through high school.
By the time I arrived at Drury in the fall of 2006, college felt like the place I was meant to be.
I took my dad’s persuasion seminar as a sophomore and it was in that class that I decided to major in Speech Communication. I’m sure my decision was impacted by how much my dad’s class felt like family dinners from my childhood, but communication was also something that fascinated me. While at Drury, I worked as a Peer Consultant in the Speech Communication Center helping other students prepare for class presentations. This experience was invaluable because as a Peer Consultant I learned many of the fundamental teaching skills that I continue to use as a Graduate Assistant teaching undergraduate classes.
As a Drury student, I participated in three week-long rebuilding trips to New Orleans. I have spent time in many historic cities across the United States and Europe, but I never felt as much a part of history as I did when I was walking in New Orleans. When I graduated from Drury in 2010, I decided to move to New Orleans where I spent a year rebuilding houses that were still damaged five years after Hurricane Katrina. In a city recovering from the catastrophic levee failures, I was struck by the resilience of the New Orleanians I met. It seemed that their hope stemmed from a loving rootedness to their city which was often communicated through stories and songs. Though I loved New Orleans, the time off proved that graduate school was the place for me. While I am still in the process of finalizing a dissertation topic, I know that it will focus on New Orleans.
If I could give advice to my undergraduate self I would start by saying, take school seriously, but not too seriously. While my professors and classes set me up to succeed in graduate school, a huge part of my Drury experience was the extracurricular activities. From intramurals to one-act plays, from alternative Spring Break trips to playing ukulele at open mic nights, activities outside of class enriched my school work in profound ways. The key, of course, is balance. Don’t neglect your classes, but make sure you take the time to discover what your passions are. Drury is filled with brilliant and interesting folks and there are all kinds of opportunities for intellectual growth and exploration. Take some chances, have some fun, work hard, and who knows, you might stumble across your dissertation project in the process.
Note: David is completing his second semester in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences at Penn State (December 2014). If you have questions about graduate study, don’t hesitate to reach out to this alumnus.