Halfway through completing her undergraduate degree in anthropology at the University of Chicago, Sara Mohr decided to switch her area of concentration from physical anthropology to a focus on the civilizations of the Near East.
“I had known since high school that I wanted to major in anthropology,” Sara says. “Having encountered bits and pieces of work on human evolution, I wanted to know more about how we came to be the way we are today. It was a Core class at UChicago that really influenced my interest in studying the Near East. The history was fascinating and I found myself wanting to take more courses on the civilizations I had studied as part of the Ancient Empires sequence.”
Although she strongly suspected that graduate school was in her future after she graduated, she decided to spend a few years working just to make sure about her next step in life. It was during this time, while working as an admissions counselor at the University, that she first learned about the Graham School’s Graduate Student-at-Large (GSAL) program. Not only did it seem like a great way to learn more about the Near East and potentially hone her area of focus still further, the mere fact of keeping a part of her mind actively engaged in the classroom seemed like an important signal to send the graduate programs she anticipated applying to.
“One class I took through the GSAL program was on the Hittites,” she says. “Having learned about the civilization in a general way while an undergraduate, the depth at which the professor considered their literature was new and exciting. A lot of us hadn’t considered Hittite literature in that sort of detail before. The focus revolved around how their literature dealt with and tried to understand the concept of time. The professor weaved these considerations into larger discussions of Egyptian and Mesopotamian literature.”
Sara also highlights the role the Graham School advisers played in making her experience in the GSAL program as rewarding and successful as it was. She describes the coffee chats and other social occasions hosted by the advisers as great opportunities to meet others in similar situations to herself. She also notes the role the advisers had in bolstering her sense that she was on the right track.
“Before each quarter, I’d be sure to set up an appointment to discuss my options,” she says. “It was always helpful to bounce ideas off them and get their input on the pros and cons of the decisions I was thinking about making.”
It all worked out for Sara in the end. Starting in the fall of 2017, she will start the PhD program in assyriology at Brown University. “During the interview process, I remember being in a room with the other candidates and noting how my experience taking classes through the GSAL program set me apart,” she says. “Many of the others had taken time off after finishing their undergraduate degrees as well, so sharing my experience taking classes through the GSAL program was a great way to let them know that I’d stayed engaged and had been working toward this goal all along.”