María J. Durán is a doctoral student in the department of English and Comparative Literature and Graduate Research Assistant for the Latina/o Studies Program at UNC-Chapel Hill. She studies 20th century-contemporary Latina/o Literature with a focus on drama and performance and is also an advocate for underrepresented minority education.
1. What made you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
I’ve learned that my presence as a graduate student (and future faculty) is necessary to change the underrepresentation of people of color in academia. I didn’t have Latina/o professors and mentors in college. They were probably in a department, in an office–on campus somewhere. But, I figured there weren’t nearly enough Latina/o faculty if I never encountered any during my undergraduate studies. Upon completing the Strozzi Institute’s School of Embodied Leadership course in 2008, I declared a lifelong commitment: to become a Latina presence in higher education.
2. What’s the thing you love most about Chapel Hill?
Al’s Burgers and Carolina Basketball. I’ve never experienced both at the same time, but I’m sure that would be heavenly.
3. If you had any advice for someone thinking about pursuing a graduate degree, what would it be?
This is a tough question because there are so many factors to consider about graduate school. Some people pursue a graduate degree because they think it’s the next “default” thing to do, but it’s not. Graduate school takes a lot of time and energy, especially if you pursue a PhD. Above all, I would say think about what you ultimately want to do with a graduate degree. Is a master’s or PhD necessary for your career goal(s)? Why? I also recommend talking to graduate students from different disciplines. They will have so much knowledge (and grievances) to share with you. This will give you a glimpse into the graduate school academic and personal journey.
4. What is your dream career after you’ve completed your studies?
In the current job-market, I can only dream! My dream career is to be a tenured professor who serves as the director of an interdisciplinary Latina/o Studies Program. I want to serve Latina/o students in college. I’ve also thought about writing a book (fiction), but that idea definitely exists in an alternative reality.