Graduate School Discernment

At the beginning of my senior year, I happened to unfortunately be one of those soon-to-be matriculating undergraduates that didn’t know what they were going to do.  At the beginning of my undergraduate career, I knew the next 5 years of my life but of course, my path in life changed a couple of times that I never really made an updated 5-year plan.

I applied to various jobs sectors and when interviews never really felt “right”, I then looked into graduate school.  I actively asked my friends and family members what they were thinking and given what they knew about me, what did they see me doing (and more specifically what program).  I’m really glad that Continue reading

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:  http://me.stanford.edu/documents/ME_SSO/Advice_Paper_web.pdf

Joshua Rothman also discusses the “Impossible Decision”:  http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/04/graduate-school-advice-impossible-decision.html

Good luck with your decision!

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

Photo taken from Nourish.org

Photo taken from Nourish.org

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.

Graduate School? Talk to _____

Indiana University Bloomington (from iugradschool.blogspot.com)

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

Graduate Visitation is a MUST

I often get the question from prospective graduate students on whether graduate visitation is a necessary step in the overall graduate admission process as the prospect of taking time off for travel might be difficult on a tight schedule and/or the cost of travel is just too steep for an individual ready to submit to a few more years of ongoing poverty. The short and simple answer is YES. A visit to prospective institutions, in my opinion, is a must.

The collective knowledge gained from every visit was arguably the single most critical element in the process that helped me determine the right place to dedicate the next 4-5 years of my life. Let me explain. It is the universities’ job to put forth their best foot and convince you that their institution is the one for you. Typically this accomplished through a ton of promotional literature and relentless recruitment on behave of the school. It is safe to say that no schools will falsify this information, but by the same token, certainly no schools will represent their institution in a negative way. With that said, it is the responsibility of the prospective student to discern the institution that best fit their personality, as well as career orientation. And the only ways to truly do this is by going straight to the source and investigate. Here are some tips that may be helpful in the process of graduate visitation:

  • Cost of airfare and hotel rooms are expensive and certainly will add up after about 2-3 visitations. Most universities, and depending on structure of each department, typically have money set aside to fund visitations. Do inquire further at the department office of the program in question. The worst that can happen is a polite, “No.”
  • With all the action happening on the admission side of things, administrative employees are often very busy. This can make them a little grouchy and unwilling to help a lowly prospective graduate student, true story. This is where open communication with faculty members pay off and they are usually very effective at making your case to the administrative side. Even if the admissions people remain uncooperative, the faculty can certainly help fund your trip from their own accounts.
  • Cost of living analysis should be carried out at every institution. Getting a $20k annual stipend to live in Los Angeles is certainly very different from living in Bloomington. Choose wisely.
  • Ask about available scholarships, fellowships, and funding sources for your education. A $250k billing at the end of the graduate career is no fun. I know many in this situation.
  • Inquire into research opportunities and well as teaching opportunities available at the institution. This will insure that you are at a place where you can keep your training relevant and skill set diverse.
  • Nightlife. I cannot stress this enough. It is important for your mental health as well as the mental health of those in your program to have places to just relax, have a beer, and unwind. This vital information is often obtained through current graduate students at the institution. Feel free to ask.
  • Lastly, have at least two professors that you’d like to personally speak with regarding the program and what it has to offer. It is a good idea to do research ahead of time on these professors to strengthen your questions in the context of their work.

Good luck, and have a wonderful visitation day!

Graduate Student Emissaries at Work

Along with blogging, giving student tours and being successful Graduate Students the Emissaries for Graduate Student Diversity also give presentations. Three emissaries gave a presentation on “graduate school preparedness” at the Hudson and Holland Scholars Program LEAD Conference on Saturday, February 2, 2013 at the Bloomington Convention Center.

Carl D., Zelideh M-H., and Alfonse P presented two workshops on “Graduate School Preparedness” at the Hudson and Holland Scholars Program LEAD Conference on Saturday, February 2, 2013 at the Bloomington Convention Center.

~ Photo taken by David N.

And now your waiting? What to do next?

Now that you have sent in your application, you must be wondering what you should do next.  Double check with your school if you need to submit separate applications for fellowships and scholarships.  You will want to investigate these opportunities.  It’s a good idea to talk to faculty of your department to see what departmental opportunities there are to apply for.  Fellowships will provide opportunities for you not only to seek funding but also experience.  What is important about fellowships is that they allow you to be secure regarding funding and during your first year as a graduate student, you can explore other options if your fellowship is only awarded for one year.  If fellowships are not an option, begin looking for other financial assistance either through campus employment or working in the community if you are in need of funding while studying. Many schools and departments have research centers that may be looking for help.  Make sure to be exhaustive in your search.

If you have missed the deadline to apply for fellowships, create a folder and collect information for the next year.  Being prepared will help you keep a foot out front and have all necessary documents, recommendations, and information ready to submit at a moment’s notice.  If you are needing recommendations, do not procrastinate.  Professors will write you a better recommendation if they have time to prepare and not have to use a “canned” letter.

Stay tuned to next month about filing for a FAFSA.

 

The Waiting Game

I remember what January of 2010 was like.  I had sent in all 5 of my applications. I had focused so much energy and time, produced so many drafts of the “perfect” personal statement, paid so much money in application fees, and had sent too many emails to my recommenders.  Although this may seem like a time where you should worry, it is not.

There is nothing eloquent that I can write about this waiting game. Nothing heartfelt or rhythmic.  I only want to encourage you that now is where the confidence in all of your hard work, your academic experiences, your decisions to select the schools to apply to, all of the internet and soul searching, every sacrifice that you have made, and the strength that it took to take a leap of faith to actually begin the application process is going to pay off. You will succeed.

Indiana University is an amazing school and definitely a place where you can thrive and learn and grow into a better academic and professional. And, if this is your choice, I look forward to seeing you at future GPSO events. Don’t worry about shoulda, woulda, couldas….worry about the  “I wills” and the “I can’t waits!”

Relax. Go about your daily routines. Wait for the email notification. And, be patient. The confirmation is coming your way!!!!

Grades and good test scores are important … but not a life & death matter!

Many folks are concerned that if they messed up freshman or sophomore year with their academics and their GPA isn’t as good as they would want, there is no hope for graduate school.   Others are not as good test takers as others and are worried that their performance will hinder their admissions.  Remember that graduate school is not a life and death matter!  There is always hope and if you want it badly, you can achieve it!  YOU CAN DO IT!

If your GPA or graduate standardized test scores are low, supplement them with other positive characteristics of your application.  You may want to get another masters degree that is relevant to your field of interest to perform better as an illustration of your academic abilities.  Getting a job in your field of study and performing well in it will show schools your work ethic.  Studying harder and taking the test another time can supplement a poor score and show schools that you are persistent and really want to achieve.

Remember, there is never a dead-end, just a detour.  Don’t get frustrated and give up … there is hope!  Message me if you want more ideas!  Good luck … and remember … YOU CAN DO IT!

Graduate Application Checklist

Here is a useful checklist that I personally used while finalizing my graduate school applications.

  • Check and save records of all electronic applications (as .pdf) and written applications (as photocopyies. It’ll be useful to reference if anything goes wrong with your application process in the near future.
  • Carefully read through each personal statement and statement of purpose. If you used a general template tailored to each specific institution, make sure the university and the program names referenced in the statements corresponds to the actual school you’re applying to. This will surely avoid awkward situations.
  • Double-check that your GRE scores (general and field specific) have been sent to the correct university codes. Then check again by calling ETS. They are notorious for ruining applications.
  • Stay in constant contact with the nice folks who will be writing your letters of recommendation. First and foremost, they are people who have lives outside of work. Secondly, they are likely professionals or professors at your institution. These people are arguably the most busy people in the world. Don’t be afraid to offend, remind them OFTEN of upcoming deadlines. They’ll appreciate it.
  • Make a spreadsheet that contains all the schools you are applying to, the status of their applications, and special considerations as the application process for each school is quite unique (and should stay that way to avoid the plague of putting names into “magical black boxes” to determine one’s future that is currently a point consternation in the medical field).
  • Once the last application is sent off, DO NOT DWELL. Find something relaxing to occupy your time that applications has once stolen from you. Absolutely free you are, until bonded and shackled to your graduate project, but you didn’t hear it from me. =)

Best of luck always on all your endeavors! Email me if you have any questions.