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.

Working and the holidays

Lately I’ve been thinking a bit about the work/life balance that we all hear about in graduate school. At this point in my life, I’ve realized that I’ll always be one of those people who has to tell myself to take the necessary breaks in my work schedule. Coming up on the TG holiday, I’ve set aside some time (not much, but some) for family, friends, food, sleep, etc. It will be interesting to see if I’m able to stick to my “scheduled relaxation” or not (yikes, that doesn’t sound good when it’s typed out!), given that there’s always more to do. That said, there’s real wisdom in taking that break if you need it.  But, as many of you already know, achieving that work/life balance is always tricky in graduate school.  I think it’s a critical life skill–and one that I’ve certainly not perfected yet.  But, I’m getting better with age.

Happy Halloween! And about those deadlines…

I hope you all had time to celebrate a little! I got a little carried away in costume planning one day. It was worth it, but now I’m paying for it by frantically trying to finish a grant proposal before tomorrow’s looming deadline. I’ve secluded myself in what I like to call “The Isolation Chamber” – a room tucked away at the back of my house, away from distractions generated by roommates, spouse, or large windows with a view of the outside world. Having a place where you can really focus is critical in graduate school. So whether you prefer a desk at the library, the backroom at Soma coffeehouse with your headphones on, or a room like mine, find your happy focus place and use it when the deadlines loom!