Ph.D Before 30…Skipping the Workforce

I graduated from undergrad when I was 22. I graduated from my master’s program at 24. I am currently 26 and in the third year of my doctoral degree. I am the definition of the dreaded “professional student” who has skipped the workforce and has continued to matriculate through numerous degrees WITHOUT a single break. You may ask why I chose to not enter the workforce or take a break, and there is really one simple answer.


Each time I applied to a program, there were funding opportunities available for me to attend school tuition free, with fellowships, and with stipends to top the deal. For me, it was a simple decision. I continued to go to school because I was able to do so financially. Although funding was a big part of the decision, I should have considered all the pros and cons of skipping the workforce. Now in hindsight, I can share the good and the bad.

The BAD:

-School is exhausting. I’ve not given myself anytime between degrees to just let things absorb mentally and release all of the stresses that come along with higher education. At times it can be very tiring. It may have been good to at least take a semester off.


-Photo Courtesy of by Jorge Cham


-Plenty of time to transition into academic life. I plan to finish before I’m 30, this will give me plenty of time to make decisions about my academic future, whether I decide to teach or do research, and I even have the option of taking a break once I’m finished. I feel like I’ve given myself a cushion to make crucial decisions concerning my future.

Ultimately, any route you take to higher education should be based on your own wants and needs. Take the time to consider the pros and cons. If your considering going back for your Ph.D and you’ve been in the workforce, I strongly encourage you to do so! Especially if there are readily available funding opportunities  Honestly, looking back on it now, I wouldn’t have changed a thing!


It’s okay to wait…

Don’t apply to grad school because you don’t think you can find a job.

I worked for a while before pursuing my PhD and my experiences working in public health helped me figure out what I wanted to actually do for a living.  When I realized that I wanted to pursue a doctoral degree, I was able to articulate what I wanted out of the experience and to look for a program that provided that.  Being an older student definitely has its pros and cons. 😉

Rob N. Candler highlights some of the issues you might want to consider when pondering the grad school question:

Joshua Rothman also discusses the “Impossible Decision”:

Good luck with your decision!

Should I go to Gradschool? Well…do you like trail mix?

Photo taken from

Photo taken from

The decision to go to grad school is, believe it or not, like buying trail mix. At first, this sounds rather abstract, but work with me. It’s true!

You have people that like trail mix for its nutritional value. It’s a healthy, sweet snack that provides you with energy and protein. You can pat yourself on the back for choosing it over, say, a bag of doughnuts.

…Then you have people who just buy it for the chocolate chips, M&Ms and, if it’s a particularly good batch, the peanut butter chips. The pretzels, peanuts and raisins are really just there to say you made/bought a snack with something in it generally deemed as “healthy.”

I happen to fall into the latter camp. I  wanted the candy, and the ability to pat myself on the back for resisting the doughnuts. However, I expected I would have to eat some peanuts, or even lower myself to eat the raisins every once in a while. 55% of my reason for attending grad school was because it just sounded healthy. A bachelor’s degree has become the old high school diploma, so in order to take care of my “health,” with the incentive of a “sweet” degree, I entered graduate school.

Graduate school is a great way to connect with people, keep yourself busy, and do your own research in an area you are interested in, with professors who are just as interested in that material as you are. It will, generally speaking, put you ahead of your peers in the workforce. In addition, each program will have its own variety of chocolate chips (Fellowships, grants, job placement rates, etc.), that really make trail mix tolerable, if not moderately delicious, so there are many good reasons to go to graduate school.

It is, however, full of peanuts and pretzels and those weird, salty, garlic crisps that may or may not cancel out the tasty, sugary good bits. Obviously, graduate school calls for a higher level of output, success, and precision in the classroom and than most undergraduate institutions. Then there’s the thesis/essay/project/dissertation you may have to do…

However, if the promise of chocolate chips and M&Ms outweighs the idea of eating garlic crisps, grad school is a great choice.

In the interest of not over-extending the trail-mix analogy, I’ll summarize by saying one must examine their own  life goals, aspirations, and tolerance for academia. Getting a job could be more of an immediate need, or perhaps you’re just ready for a more immediate form of gratification.

Should you choose the doughnuts over the trail mix, however, there is no shame in this option either. The option of going to graduate school later is also an option. One does not have to enter directly after undergrad (though, I chose to go this route), either. Trail mix is almost never out of stock.

Main Event: Grad School v. Work Force

Fighting out of the blue corner : Graduate “Smarty Pants” School

Fighting out of the red corner : Full Time “Dollar Bills” Job

The blue corner came out swinging in my case. I knew that I wanted to at least get my Master’s right away. Coming from a private university where my upper level classes in Spanish and Gender Studies were small and intensive I wanted to keep the conversation going. Before there could actually be a legitimate ruling for the blue corner win, I sought out different internships and part-time positions in the fields I was most interested in. I worked and interned at health centers, non-profit organizations, and university offices. I also traveled during my summers so I could experience studying and working abroad.

The red corner made some gains as I dreamed of steady paychecks, set work schedules, and most of all NO MORE EXAMS AND PAPERS, but I knew that I couldn’t stop…at least not yet. With the support of my family I explained that graduate school was the necessary step in my academic journey. I spoke with professors, advisors, and internship supervisors to have a better idea of my options, but ultimately the decision was mine to make and I decided to apply and explain to different programs the importance of my future research.

Did I know exactly what I wanted to do? NO…but I had a general, yet lofty idea. That idea not only required a MA and PhD, but also work experience. From the B.A. -> M.A. -> Ph.D. (in progress) you could say I am a professional student, but I would have to disagree. While earning each degree I was a collegiate athlete (work), graduate assistant (work), or currently a research assistant (work).

Unfortunately, the decision, options, and circumstances are different for each person as to whether they should pursue full time employment after college or immediately apply to graduate school.

WINNER after a 10 second count : Graduate “Smarty Pants” School


Graduate School? Talk to _____

Indiana University Bloomington (from

There are some who already knew what they were going to do when they started their undergraduate career.  It took me, however, until my senior year.  Many of my fellow classmates were frantically going to job interviews, and I reluctantly went to a few, not knowing what my actual passion was.

It was not until I made a list of what was most important to me that I figured that graduate school should be on the list.  My family and friends always asked me what I wanted to do, and I always said, Continue reading

Going to Grad School vs. Entering the Workforce

Beach Ukelele Smaller version

A shot from Waikiki Beach during a Hawaii recruiting trip in Fall 2011.  Photo taken by Stephanie Nguyen.

I remember asking this question to different people–alums, faculty, and advisers– when I was a senior in undergrad.  Each answer I received was different from another.  In other words, there isn’t a right answer to this question, and it really depends on a few factors:

  1. The industry/field you are interested in actually NEEDS people with professional/higher degrees.
  2. If you want to teach in college.
  3. If you want to contribute original academic research.
  4. How burnt out you are from school (and yes, this is a factor!)

So the best answer for me was entering into the workforce.  I had a great time in college–I double majored (marketing and piano performance); I studied abroad; and I was very involved in clubs and student government.  But by senior year, I was a pretty burnt out.  To me, the idea of doing two to seven more years of school was as dreadful as getting my teeth pulled at the dentist.

I worked three years for my alma mater as an admissions counselor, and boy, did I have a lot of fun!  A few things I loved about working:

  1. There’s no homework!
  2. You get paid for your work!
  3. Saving (or spending) your new found paycheck!
  4. You can focus on your hobbies!
  5. Traveling on the company’s dime!
  6. Meeting new people!

Besides having fun, I learned professional skills like supervising, advising, and budgeting.  Most importantly, I learned more about myself both as a person and as a professional.  Personally, I used my free time to become a half-marathoner runner and to volunteer in the community.  Professionally, I realized that my passions lay in interacting and advising undergraduate students as well as understanding the process of running a university.  So, with the help of my current boss at the time, I decided that I was ready to apply for a master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs.

So, I am a big proponent of working before going to graduate school.  To summarize, working for a few years will help you find direction in your life.  It will help you figure out if you truly want to go back to graduate school, and possibly help you figure out which academic field is the best fit for you.  Also, taking a few years off from school will help you appreciate academics more when you do go back to school.  Of course, having a paycheck doesn’t hurt as well!  Ultimately, though, this is a choice you must weigh based on many different factors of your life and your career goals.

Campus internationalization

Internationalization is both an internal and external phenomenon for higher education institutions.  Because of our globalized world economy and the increase in international opportunities, this impacts everyone no matter their interests of study and research.  Whether or not you study physics, education, law, business, or psychology, our worlds are becoming more and more international.  That is why it is important to consider how international your institution is when deciding where to attend.

IU is international.  Along with its international strategic plan and its new School of Global and International Studies, IU’s alumni reach all corners of the world.  The programs here allow for study, research, and travel abroad to learn about your area of discipline in another country.  Experiences like these can only help you in your pursuit for a job.

Campus visits are important!

Now that everything is submitted, it is now time to wait for responses. It is important to keep in mind that rejection letters are inevitable. Don’t let them get you down. There are many options out there, and it is not the end of the world.

However, you should still be proactive in the meantime while you are waiting. Do you yet know your list of preferred schools and why you want to attend them? Have you visited them? Visiting an institution and getting the “feel” to what it is like to be there will help you make a decision and not regret it later. Each institution is different. The campus life, environment, and structure can be a huge impact on how you will enjoy spending years there. Do you like big cities? Small college towns? A scenic campus to walk through? Visit, visit, visit! Visit IU by emailing us at! I hope to meet you at IU! GO HOOSIERS!

Visiting the IU Campus

I always wanted to attend a college with grass, trees, and brick buildings as an undergraduate student. When researching graduate schools and after visiting a few VERY urban campuses, I realized that this was an important criterion for me. I like the grassy, pillows and blankets, trees, and frisbie catching experience that green space offers on college campuses. Yes, this may sound very traditional, but that was a quality about the IU campus that appealed to needs that I did not know that I had. As a graduate student, the traditional feel of IU has encouraged several things: relaxed environment to work in, less traffic and challenge of the fast life, as well as interacting with undergraduates while walking to class. This has enriched my experience as a graduate student.

You should visit the IU campus because it does offer many traditional aspects to college life. As previously mentioned, green space is very important to this institution. The campus highlights this by providing programming, fairs, and other activities to engage with other students. And, there is usually free food in Dunn Meadow when it is warm and sunny on a regular basis! :)

Visiting campus as a graduate student is ideal. You may be here for longer than four years. You might have a family that would be using campus facilities. It might impact how you fit into your department or even with other graduate students. Whatever are your specific needs, I strongly encourage you to visit to evaluate if this is the place for you.

I was sold on my first visit and have never regretted it since!