And the story begins because of a graduate school pub night. About three weeks ago or so, my coursework for my Master’s year of graduate school came to a close. To celebrate our final class, the majority of my classmates and I went to the school pub to toast a semester complete and a job well done. While we all spoke and laughed about the challenges and benefits of our situation, as I sipped my Seabreeze cocktail, it became increasingly more noticeable to me that none of us shared the same mindset regarding grad school. At this point, I entered into deep thought while overhearing one of my classmate's talk of a research trip to Ottawa in early May.
How could I be so off base with some of these people? Where they loathed many of the aspects of the schooling, I loved them. Stress: I hadn’t experienced any intense pressure I couldn’t handle. Time management: Organization was crucial to my life. Disagreeable colleagues: There were no noteworthy confrontations or disagreements to be seen. Tears: If it wasn’t in laughter, my eyes were dry. While they loathed busy schedules and readings, I relished in the excitement of analyzing work in a critical way.
I can’t say I’m exceptional in this regard. I do not know what thoughts swirled in their heads during the evening. Alas, I felt a tinge of disappointment when I heard complaints that the program was a waste of time, not what they expected, or stopped their desire for further education at the Ph.D. level. Nothing is more upsetting than dampened souls.
Needless to say, I left the night viewing my perception of graduate school in a way I had not considered before. It is a cliche to say that you can’t understand what it's like being in grad school unless you’ve been to grad school. But, it is true as it is in a lot of similar scenarios. As I have let this blog post stew in my mind, I went onto YouTube to see views of other people’s graduate school experiences. Strangely, I never thought to do this before I entered grad school. What I discovered was overwhelmingly negative reviews and harrowing accounts of the tortures of upper-level academic learning. I felt even more disconnected from my classmates.
I think finding massively negative reviews of something as diverse as individual graduate school history has to be discouraging for people who are contemplating the experience for themselves. I am willing to bet people have read the harrowing stories and decided right then and there that graduate school is for the mentally insane. Well, I’m here to say that is not true. I started with my sanity, and I’ll be leaving with it as well.
Am I saying graduate school is easy? No.
Am I saying I have cracked the code to a stress-free post-graduate education? No.
Am I saying that a ton of your grad school perceptions and, thus, experience may be overwhelming influenced by hearing about how ‘hard’ grad school is? Yes.
What I want to do is explain an alternative side to graduate school. The only reasonable way to tell my story is to start at the beginning of when I decided to apply for graduate school. In that, what I did to stand out from my fellow applicants including extracurricular activities and relationships with professors, as well as the in’s and out’s which have made my graduate school experience enjoyable.
I don’t need to change your mind about graduate school. If you ever find yourself in the position where you are interested in post-graduate education, you’ll have your reasons, and a checklist of things you know apply to your situation. With hope, my explanations can help put together (for you and me) why my experience is not the same as my classmates or other graduate students whose articles I read or videos I watched online. In the end, it is a personal journey I am forging with every article read and essay written. But before I stepped into my first graduate seminar in September 2016, I had been preparing for my new adventure for almost two years. In fact, it started in January of 2015.
So stick around, if you'd like, whether you have ever had any interest in grad school or are ever wondered why people go to grad school in the first place. I know there are a lot of myths about graduate school. I'll sift through a few as I go through the good and the bad of one of the best decisions of my life.