Happy December everyone! As the year comes to a close I look back and reflect on my learning experiences from these past 12 months. I'm currently in my fifth year of Graduate School studies and realized how much I had grown over this period of time. I also realized that there are students out there who are now considering going to Graduate School or are finishing their very first semester of their grad studies. I thought as a senior level student I might be able to pass along some knowledge to those who are considering this path of learning, or those who are just starting out. Below are some things that I had learned over my time here at the university, as well as some things I wish I had known before starting.
Decide why you're pursuing grad school
Some people choose to pursue grad school because they're in a field that requires a terminal degree, which may be a masters or even a doctorate level degree. Grad school is an obvious choice for them because it's just another stepping stone in their career. Others find themselves on this path because they don't know what other options they have nor do they have an idea of what exactly they'd like to do. This reasoning becomes a little tricky as grad school is a huge commitment of your time and energy, and if you are only doing it because you don't know what job you'd like it's easy to become overwhelmed and stressed by the experience. Being honest with yourself and figuring out what your long term goals are would help you in designing whether or not it's worth it to pursue graduate studies.
Take time into consideration
Think about whether or not you had specific plans for yourself at a particular age. Do you want to start a business, do you want to have a family, do you want to buy a house, all of these things may or may not be delayed by how long you would be in grad school. Think of how long your studies may be, and then add on a year just to be on the safe side, how old will you be then? Will you have done the things that you were aiming to by that age? Will you be comfortable with the progression in your life by that time?
Location is as important as program
If you're a very social person you want to be in an area that allows you to have and build these social interactions. If you are more family oriented, consider how far the universities that you're applying to are from your family. Think of how you would be able to travel back home for the holidays, vacation or even emergencies. I have met some fellow students who have moved very far from their families and it takes a great toll on them. Graduate School is stressful, having your friends and loved ones nearby will help you navigate that stress, limiting your access to that or removing it entirely will have consequences on your studies as well as your overall mental health. Some of the best programs may be overseas or in a different state but consider how well you may do in that program if family and social events are important to you.
Graduate school is a solo operation
This is one of the biggest shocks that I had as I moved through my graduate studies. I had been so used to working with teams studying with other students and overall being very interactive with others throughout my time as an undergrad. When I started grad school I thought it would be very similar in the sense that you could rely on others for help and there would be a lot of collaboration, especially in the sciences where I know that lab mates can help each other. I was sorely mistaken as I found that as much as it is an educational setting, you are entirely independent in your studies and (in my case) research projects. Your advisor may advise you, however they will not be teaching you, training you, or managing your schedule in any way, they're simply far more busy with greater responsibilities than you are. In this sense going to grad school is almost like a boot camp for real life, you self manage and there's
a lot of growth along the way. At the end of the day, grad school offers a lot of opportunities for your career as well as your personal development. If someone were to ask me if I would recommend graduate school my answer would be conditional. If you know what you want to do, and a graduate degree is necessary for that, then absolutely. If its someone who is considering grad school out of convenience, delaying the workforce, or simply because they don’t know what they'd like to do, I would not encourage grad school for them.