What Am I Going To Do When I Grow Up?

Posts Tagged ‘graduate school

If you are thinking about graduate school, please read the post at Grad Pit Stop before you do anything else.

Moving forward without writing things down, weighing pro’s and con’s, talking it through with a number of people you respect, and thinking that you will be fine is not a plan.    I say this because I didn’t do these things and it would mean a lot to me if others could learn from my mistakes.

I headed off to graduate school because it seemed like the next logical option without any formal or informal examination of my various broad reaching career options.  I loved studying, reading, writing, and discussing ideas along a broad range of deeply interrelated subject matter.  My faculty, who were great mentors and supporters, thought it would be a great option.

It wasn’t until I was in graduate school and looking more seriously ahead at a field replete with ABD-ghosts broken and floating lecturers teaching night and weekend classes, cobbling together a meager income from several different adjunct positions all over the region, that I started to see with greater clarity that the field I thought was so wonderful had a rusty carcass at its core.  The dream of making tenure by 30 was mythic for almost any person, even department stars.

There were quite simply too many implausible odds on writing one of two published books a year and scoring a tenure-track position at even the most remote a college, much less a top-tier university.  Unless I was on a holy mission to prove something or another, it just didn’t seem worth it to continue into the Ph.D. program.

When I started I was on a mission.  But then I discovered that my mission wasn’t built on pure desire to know, it was built and driven principle on a genuine desire to prove myself as “good enough.”    This discovery was piercing.

Like many transformational moments it was deflating, dispiriting, and fraught with despair at the same time it was the foundation of discovering the path to my self.    I totally admit that at the time it was happening, I didn’t see the opportunities as much as I saw the devastation.  It’s only in retrospect that I see how it was all meant to be.

So, I share this with you so that you might be much clearer on your mission, more conscious of actual field realities,  and more fully engaged in guided career exploration.

Sending fabulous energy!

Often students who are planning to go to graduate school dismiss internships and even the idea of career planning entirely.  I’ve truly had student-after-high-ability student absolutely refuse to consider the idea of working on career exploration and development activities while in college because “I’m going to graduate school.”

So, if this is something you’ve thought, you aren’t alone.  Lots of students only focus on getting a degree.

Consider this:  Just because you plan to get ANOTHER degree doesn’t mean you are prepared to enter the job market.  Just having a degree (even an advanced one) does NOT automatically get you hired, nor does it guarantee a satisfying meaningful career.  It just means you have cleared the academic hurdles set up by a specific program before they will issue a degree.

I’m not saying that degrees aren’t important and valuable, nor am I dismissing just how hard you might work to earn the degree.  What I am saying that a degree is not the entire recipe for success.

Getting any degree at any level is a huge commitment of time, energy, and money.     Yet, going to school is only part about the classes and subject matter.   Half of why you come to college is to learn technique and information.  The other half is about networking and gaining experiences.

So, here’s some very real talk on the issue of graduate school and internships:

1) First, internships, volunteer work, and other experiences that show involvement, leadership, and dedication make you a better candidate for graduate study.  Engaging experiences make you an more interesting person who can write better letters of application, have more people to ask for letters of recommendation, and brings more meaning to the process.

2) You might not anticipate this, but it’s possible that you might not get into graduate school or not get into programs you want to attend or it’s possible that by the time you are finishing up your seniors year you just can’t bear the idea of MORE school and decide to put grad school off for a year or two.   Internships lay the groundwork for your career, providing experience and networking connections in a field.

2) Graduate school just is not all it’s cracked up to be.  It’s a lot of work.  If it’s meaningful work that fits into your long terms career goals then it’s enjoyable and worth it.  At least most days.  😉   But if graduate school is just because you are good at school and feel that “it’s just a logical choice and really what else would you do?, then you are going to graduate over-educated and completely ill-prepared for a meaningful job search.  Internships, volunteer work, and leadership experiences at any time help prepare you for the job market in ways that more school never will.

3) Internships, volunteer work, and leadership experiences all help you explore who you are in different situations.  These experiences help you develop a sense of what works and what doesn’t when interacting with people in professional settings.  Eventually, school will be over and you will need to confront the question of “what you are going to do when you grow up?”

4) Depending on which graduate program you attend there may be a HUGE range of career development support available to you.  Some graduate programs are absolutely AMAZING in terms of what they provide in terms of leadership development, networking opportunities, internships, practicums, co-ops, residencies, clerking, teaching, researching, or other applied learning experiences.  Yet, sadly some number of graduate program are abysmal, providing even less support for graduate student career development than the inadequate scraps of career services they provide for undergraduates in the same programs.

I could probably write volumes on the subject of the inadequacies of career development at university, but I’ll sum it up this way… depending on what type of graduate program you are looking at and why you are looking at it, they might be selling a dream that isn’t as shiny as you think it is.  So, if you are going to graduate school because you want to be faculty, be prepared to examine the rusty interior of academia before choosing that path.   More on that topic in future posts.

No matter what your educational plans are in relationship to your career plans…wherever you are in your journey, it’s never too early or late for more experience.   So whether it’s a part time internship or a volunteer experience or any other kind of structure that allows you to meet people and connect with specific fields, it’s an invaluable in yourself.   You are totally worth it!

Sending fabulous energy!

If you’ve been reading along in my series on going to graduate school, you might at some point in the process get overwhelmed.  That’s totally normal.

If it’s helpful, I get overwhelmed as much as the next person.  Thinking about life… career options… relationships… from the big picture to the smallest pixel… there are moments when it can all become too much.

From questioning where one might to live, work, study, or raise a family?  to considering what others might think?  how it might work?  or even what might happen if…? Sometimes, it can be good to pause, take a minute to breathe, and consider the larger purpose of why we are heading off to do something.

Just like anyone, I can get caught up in exploring the enormity of options, unknown variables, quantity of elements to coordinate, etc…that it’s just a seemingly never-ending pointless laundry list of tasks and duties and responsibilities…and it’s at that moment, especially if I find myself discouraged, frustrated, or wanting to just quit, one of the most powerful things I’ve found I can do for myself and others is to ask “What’s the Point?”

Try it.  Take a deeeeeeep to-the-belly-kind-of-breathe…hold in and sloooowwwwwlyyy–as slowly as you possibly can– but evenly…let your breath out.  Gather your focus in doing so.   Slow your heart rate by slowly breathing in and out.  Ask yourself: “What’s the Point?”

When I’m asking “What’s the Point?” it’s not typically in a despairingly dramatic “ohhhhhh woe is me….what is the point of living…” while swooning, gnashing my teeth, and falling on my heroic but trite sword of death, while whining that “it’s not faaaairrrr.”  Not typically.   but you know everyone has their moments.  😉

More helpful in asking “What’s the Point”, I’ve found, is that it calls for a focus on purpose or mission.  In  Breaking the Rules, A Visionary’s Guide to Effortless High Performance, Kurt Wright examines the difference between a goal and a purpose.  For example, going to graduate school or getting a job is a goal.  It is a specific (albeit large) task that can be accomplished.   Goals are great.  But, a goal without a reason is hollow, demotivating, and unlikely to be successful.

Consider any time someone orders you to do something.  It really typically doesn’t matter who it is doing the ordering: it could be your mom, your boss, your significant other or roommate; it could even be yourself, but almost every time, our natural response is “Why?”  Often that “why” question is a way to resist…or contest power…but that’s deeply understandable.  Anytime we commit our time, energy, and resources to a task, it it is more helpful to know why we are doing so, than to simply march forward with a 1000-yard stare into meaningless action.

So, in someways whenever we get overwhelmed, frustrated, or otherwise feeling grumpy about something, it can be useful to take a moment to consider that core “Why” questions because the answer is central to providing a motivating reason to each goal.  Providing context and purpose is key to swift action and to meaningful results.

“What is the Point?” is another way of asking “Why?’ and gets at the central motivating reason or purpose of the goal.    Knowing the purpose of a goal is much more likely to move me into action.  Simply telling myself “I have to do this or that” makes me actually resist or procrastinate action.  When, we know why we are doing something, we have the power of choice.

Yet, if it’s helpful for me to share, sometimes that all important “why?” question can simply be too confrontational, too personal, too combative, or too philosophical to be helpful in asking ourselves and others.  It’s a crucially important question to ask, but because it’s the most core question,it can be too much for us to address, especially at stressful moments in life.

For example, even people close to us…even when we mean no confrontation…even when we ask a simple curious “so, why’d you park out front, honey?”…and it’s not a deep philosophical issue that requires soul searching…people can snap at you when you ask “why?”

So, here are ways to ask “why” in more effective frames:

  • What’s the larger mission?  What’s the central purpose?
  • Where does the mission point?
  • How does the larger purpose or mission frame options?
  • When does the mission connect?
  • Who benefits?

Ask yourself these questions at any point along the way.  Asking and answering these can keep you going, as well as keep you focused and motivated.

It can also be a great tool in crisis.

  • So, if you haven’t yet articulated a specific mission and find yourself adrift, unfocused or unmotivated, this can be a great jump start.
  • Or, if you at one point were on a mission and then started to forget to keep checking in with your mission and begin to get frustrated and overwhelmed, this can knock you out of your rut.
  • Or perhaps like all of us, even when you are clear on a mission, certain days and experiences are just hell.   Being able to not get stuck there is key.

Asking great questions, creating mission statements, or reciting inspiring quotations  and the like are a powerful tools in controlling our thoughts, beliefs, motivations, actions, and are a few of the key elements of transforming our lives on our terms.

Sending fabulous energy!

When looking for specific graduate programs, students frequently ask me about college rankings.

Of course, you can turn to resources like US News & World Report College Rankings if you just want some ideas of programs that might be worth looking at.   However, much has been written about the issues with these rankings.  I’ll sum it up this way:

  • These rankings often look at the entire university or college and often do not address the specific strength or weakness of a programs like music, law, or pharmacy within the university.
  • Even when the rankings break down to department, program, or school, rankings do not speak to specific strengths or weakness of specializations within a field.  For example, a top ranked law program may not actually focus or offer much on entertainment law.  Or, a well-ranked English program might not do much in the area of Post-Modern literature.  Even though a program is “good” doesn’t mean their focus matches your interests.   Every program has to make choices about what they want to be known for and they can’t be good at everything no matter how big the program is.
  • Rankings capture what people in the past think or report in response to cryptic questions.  Rankings do not speak to where a program may go in the future.  They can be a good indicator of central funding or on going support, but if the only faculty member teaching music cognition leaves the program and that’s what you came to study… well, it doesn’t bode well for your future studies in the program.

So, how can you do good research into programs?  Well, start by reading my previous posts on graduate schools.  Then, a next great step is to regularly read The Chronicle.  You can see trends in programs.  You can look at the facts and figures available regarding salary and opportunities.  And, you can ask questions in the forum.

There are many such resources along the way.  Use them all.  It’s a process and great research on the path to well-thought out decisions doesn’t happen over night.  Research and uncertainty are just part of the gig and are deeply understandable.  Anyone considering graduate school at moments gets overwhelmed, frustrated, and annoyed.   So, one thing you can do for yourself is to connect with others who are in the same place.  Sharing resources and experiences can be very helpful .  It provides support and a good catalyst for making progress.

Sending fabulous energy!

So, if you are just getting started in thinking about graduate school, it’s still a great time to start looking for specific programs.  Consider when you started looking for colleges when you were in high school?  What year was that?  When did your PARENTS start thinking about it?  Well, that’s about when you might start thinking about graduate school in comparison.

Even if you are fully in-swing with the graduate school application process, read on.  It’s likely there are things you might still be able to do or questions to consider that make this process really pay off.

So much of the search for the right graduate program starts with knowing yourself.   The process of getting to know more of what you want is always on-going as the further you get into researching programs the more refined your questions will become and more details will surface.  Here’s some starter ways you might find and research great programs:

1.  start with taking a look at favorite articles  and books you have read in class, in the library, or online that are related to the discipline you wish to study in graduate school.

  • who wrote those articles?  where have they studied?
  • where might they actually currently teach or have some connection?

2.  go the library, ideally a large university or city library with lots of resources and look for professional journals that appeal to you.  if you are enrolled, you likely have access to many of these articles in online databases and can search by key words, authors, and phrases.

  • which university names come up frequently in articles that rock your world?
  • which universities have published articles or books that you enjoy?
  • which programs and faculty names do you see referenced in recent interesting research articles?

3.  start with your current or alum university graduate students in similar or related programs.

  • what other programs did they apply to?  what about where their peers applied or went?
  • what programs do they recommend?
  • what would they share with you about the whole process?
  • what do they wish they had known before they started?

If you are thinking about going to graduate school, you may  have wondered about staying at your undergrad school for grad school.   It’s a deeply understandable idea, especially if you really like the subject, the school, and already have a place to live and lots of friends.  Yet, it’s often a very good idea to broaden your horizons.

Depending on your program and field there may be certain conventions specific to your field, so a great place to start is with talking with the faculty and graduate students in your program.  Certain programs strongly discourage or even flat out refuse to accept undergrads from their own program.  Other programs strongly encourage their applicants from their own undergrad program.  So, what gives?  How do you make sense of this?

Well, it might be helpful to first outline some of the key elements of a graduate program:

1) Graduate school is professional training that provides focus and direction for your career.

2) Graduate school provides grounding in key philosophies and practices within a field.

3) Graduate school provides a network at the school and access to professional networking through faculty, conferences, symposium, research, practicums, internships, residencies, and other experience designed to connect you with those in the field.

So, with these 3 key elements in mind, consider the following: no matter how wonderful your undergraduate program is, attending a different program for graduate schools gives you the opportunity to broaden your exposure to training in your field, acquaints you with more philosophies or approaches in your discipline, and of course widens the number of people in your network.    Perhaps that helps explain why some programs make policies that encourage you to look elsewhere for graduate school?

Yet, in certain cases staying at the same school might be the convention in your discipline.  For example, because K-12 licensure or certification is state-by-state, the convention has been to stay local when going to graduate school for education.  There may even be curricular and other encouragement to start undergrad in some kind of pre-education program that provides early or guaranteed entrance to graduate school.   That makes a great deal of sense given the way education is currently governed.

Yet, for most fields, you are likely to find it’s more the norm to look for programs across the country that are a good fit for the exact training, experience, and networking you desire.   This is particularly true if you are a competitive candidate for a number of program.  Often people regard their home school as a “safety net” program.   This is because a place where you are already known, liked, and succeeding isn’t regarded as stretching to the next level of what you can handle.   Making connections from where you are to where you’d be a great candidate is a lot more challenging and presents an opportunity for you really learn, grow, and integrate yourself into the field.

One element that many people find very surprising is that when looking at graduate programs that they are NOT limited to programs that are an exact match to their undergraduate studies.  Here are a couple of examples:

  • You might have an undergraduate major in English, but get an MBA.
  • You might have a film studies major and go on in Public Policy and Administration.
  • You might have a music degree and go on to a graduate program in Psychology.
  • You might have an business degree but then go to law school.
  • You might have an art degree but go to medical school.
  • You might have a biology major and get accepted into a Public Health program.
  • You might have an engineering degree but go on to study environmental design.

There are literally hundreds of examples I could give you of students who studied one thing as an undergraduate and successfully went on to graduate or professional school in another area.  So, how could that be?

Well, for some programs like medical school or related health professions, you need specific classes and experiences to get accepted.  Some students have these classes and most find they may need a few additional classes to meet these application prerequisites.    At the same time, what surprises many is that they didn’t need a specific degree in chemistry or biology to go to medical school.  They needed a core set of science classes, and very importantly, a compelling story of good fit for the medical program.

Yet in other cases, a minor or a core set of classes that may have been part of the general education curriculum may be sufficient academic preparation for entry into a graduate program.   You will need to research specific programs to see what courses, experience, scores, recommendations, or other evidence they require to evaluate your application.    For many students they are able to plan these courses into their general education.  For other students, it may require additional studies prior to graduate application.

The key is to broaden your horizon as early on as possible: look beyond your current school or even your current major to find the best graduate program for you.  Knowing what you want from a program is a good start.  Then, researching what is out there.  It’s a process.  Start from where you are.  There are many resources to assist you on your path. Use them all.

Sending fabulous energy!

Not sure if you should stay in school and plan for graduate school or graduate into a weak job market?

It’s admittedly an understandable strategy.  School is what you know.  Sure, you might be tired of it, but often people find that what is known and unpleasant is preferred to that which is unknown and therefore scary.

At the same time, graduate school is a major investment in specializing within a discipline or field and typically provides very specific training and research opportunities.   Grad school is best engaged in consciously, deliberately chosen and part of a genuine career plan…it’s really not a  place to hide out or avoid the question of what you are truly going to do in life.

There are really many paths to graduate school and that’s really important to remember.  It is NOT crucial to go directly to graduate school after college.  In fact, depending on the program, taking time between college and graduate school to work, travel, volunteer, and gain experience in life, ranges from improving acceptance rates to actually being required.

There are basically 2 schools of thought on this issue:

  1. Many people argue that taking time off of school puts you are risk of never going back to graduate school and you should go while you have the school momentum going for you.  Additionally, some career fields cannot be entered unless you’ve earned a graduate degree.    Of course, if the ONLY reason you are going forward to graduate school is inertia, it’s unlikely to be a successful and rewarding experience.   Weigh out the costs/benefits carefully.  Graduate school is very expensive and a huge professional investment.  Of course, there are also inarguable benefits to graduate degrees and the career fields they open access to.
  2. Others argue that taking time off between degrees allows people to grow, gain experience, and avoid school burnout or fatigue.  Additionally, some graduate programs actually require that people gain work experience or  do post-baccalaureate travels or internships in order to be competitive for their programs.   Many people who choose to apply to graduate programs later in life make more conscious choices about programs, research them more completely, and find the program to be a more rewarding experience, personally and professionally.  This is not always the case.

So what might you do?  Well, start with thinking about the following:

  • Why are you thinking about graduate school?   If you are going because you don’t know what else to do in life, don’t go until you are really clear on why you are going and how it will translate into a career.  Just a vague feeling that graduate school might be helpful for you is not enough.  If you are on a mission and this graduate program fulfills a particular goal in a larger career plan that has been realistically and fully researched, then graduate school is likely part of a good path for you.
  • How motivated do you feel about school right now?  On a scale of 1-10, where do you fall?
    • If going to school, leaves you moaning and groaning and wishing for something else, than put grad school planning on hold right now.  Choose career planning instead.  If at a later time graduate school is something that is part of a well-thought career plan, you will be motivated to go back.
    • If the opportunity to study, discuss, write, research, and work-harder-longer- hours-than-you-ever-have-imagined-working-in-your-life on a life quest makes your eyes shine bright, then graduate school might be heaven for you.

So, if you aren’t sure about whether or not you want to go to graduate school, that’s wonderful.  It’s good to ask questions.  To not question your decisions at all isn’t good planning.  It’s bullheaded and likely to lead to ill-conceived plans of all sorts.  Questioning leads to better answers.  Better answers leads to better decisions.

If it’s helpful, I question my career decisions all the time.  It’s when I can’t find answers that I know I need to do more research.  The issue isn’t questioning, it’s not questioning when it comes to great research.  And great research is really what graduate programs are about.   So, start asking great questions of yourself and those that can help illuminate the way.  Enjoy the process…

Sending fabulous energy!