What Am I Going To Do When I Grow Up?

Posts Tagged ‘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!

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!

Students and professionals alike often move into college or graduate and professional schools because we have been told we “should.”  Frequently, we do not know why we are in school, which significantly diminishes motivation towards the goal of graduation.

Additionally, the goal of graduation feels so very far away.  Since the goal is distant, success feels remote…it is hard to see what we do today as being all that meaningful.  Many times this “should feeling” results in procrastination, wasted opportunities, not seeing the value of what we are doing, and can significantly impact the value of investing in education, making it more difficult to find a meaningful professional career after college.

When people do not know why they are pursuing a goal, achieving it seems remote and many times, not fulfilling.  Feeling like you should go to class or study does not really motivate you to get up and go to chemistry!   And, even if you go, it certainly doesn’t make it meaningful. Students who persist in education despite not having a purpose for the education commonly select majors without a genuine understanding of how to translate education into a meaningful career.

Even when we think we have a general idea of what we might do after graduation or we choose a major because we love the subject, it is often very overwhelming to actually coordinate the steps that translate that vague “someday” into an action plan that results in a successful, focused job search.

Often, we will hang on to the mere goal of getting through, saying at each stage “just get through this class,” of “just get me to graduation” or “just tell me what I have to do to graduate,” delaying thinking about career planning, but then when we approach graduation, panic sets in.  Suddenly, we feel like we are walking a plank or staring over the side of a cliff.  We want to graduate, but we don’t know what we are going to do now.

Frequently, people experience significant disappointment after graduating from college or as we move through our careers because we work so hard to achieve the goals, but again, we don’t know why and each time we are facing the hard and oft repeated question of “what are you going to do when you grow up?’

Then, when conducting a job search, we are not sure what we are looking for, where to look, who to talk with, or what the right questions are.  It is overwhelming.  Frequently, people look at what “is” and settle for some kind of a job.  We will say “I guess I could do that” or “I wouldn’t mind doing that,” but immediately we have settled for less than what we want, often for less than we actually need.

People often conclude at this point that “there is something terribly wrong with me.  I’m inadequate and my degree is worthless.”  Neither of which is likely to be true.

What is true is that we do not have the complete Composition of Success.  We have focused on a goal, but forgotten the purpose.   Lyrical Purpose can help you clearly articulate why you are motivated & want education.  We can explore specifically what you value in education and how it is meaningfully related to our experiences and relationships.  Uncovering what motivates you, we can tap into that motivation for perpetual success.  Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What if you could see specific connections between classes and career?
  • What would it be like to articulate how you are building the foundation for your career in your coursework?
  • How beneficial would it be to truly want to engage in your education?
  • What would be the value of consciously directing your education?

Lyrical Purpose has helped so many young professionals find meaning in education, identify specific long term goals, short term action items, track our successes, and build on our strengths.  We invite you to be next!