Grad School 101: A Story of Timing and the Value of Experience

August 13, 2007

Now that I’ve uncovered some of the great grad school myths, I have a confession to make. I once bought into many of these myths myself when I applied to grad school myself. Let me tell you a little about my story. I applied to grad school during my job search after college, with the 10-year plan of continuing on to my doctoral degree and teaching as a professor one day. I got in and accepted a post-college internship at a Fortune 500 company in my field.

I wanted to have the option of a flexible career future, so grad school seemed like the perfect thing at the time. I had lots of great experience, but was still in the middle of a pretty intense job hunt in a very competitive market and field. The short version of my job hunt struggle is as follows: I had no professional network, tons of experience, and frustrations more than a mile high. So, I learned the value of a professional network quickly and very definitively in the first year I was out of college.

There I was, in the middle of a graduate program, with my internship coming to a close and no full-time job in sight, ready to get through the next couple of years of grad school so I could guarantee a high paying job, a quick promotion, and a golden ticket to the top. So you see, that naïve, unthinking grad student I was talking about in the last post was basically 100% me.

One day, someone made a phone call that changed my life. In my last few weeks before my internship ended, a mentor at the company I worked at recommended me for an interview for a position at the company I work for today. I am thankful to this day that I’d had the foresight to tell the people in my office that I was looking for full time jobs if they heard of anything. The professional network paid off in a big way. See, what ended up transforming me from the type of grad student I wrote about previously was getting a full time job. It also saved me from even further career frustration and opened more doors than grad school alone ever would have.

I was nervous about doing work full time and school full time and commuting more than two hours a day, but I took on the challenge. It turned out, my new boss had a master’s degree from my university and my new job would reimburse me half the cost of tuition. Not to mention, my boss allowed me to arrange my schedule so I could leave for class early and make up the time on mornings and off days.

For me, professional experience has made a world of difference in my graduate program. Yes, it is time-consuming to work and study at the same time, but it’s doable. I comprehend things on a deeper level than I would otherwise, I can directly use my new knowledge in my job and my writing, and I’m able to challenge myself with theories, ideas and projects that have lots of real-world application. It challenges me to be a more thoughtful, strategic, reasoned professional. More importantly, it’s changed what I want out of my degree and the whole grad school experience.

I know everyone’s story will differ, as will their paths, their motivations and their outcomes – in general and regarding grad school. That’s fine. But from where I am, a little experience makes all the difference in the world.

So, now that you know a little more about my entrance into the world of grad school, stay tuned for my top reasons you should consider applying.

For Grad School 101, Check Out These Posts
Part 1: An Inside Take on the Great Grad School Debate
Part 2: The Truth about the Top Six Grad School Myths


9 Responses to “Grad School 101: A Story of Timing and the Value of Experience”

  1. Tiffany, while I have no desire to attend grad school, I am enjoying these posts. It’ll be such a great series when you’re finished… you could even turn it into a book!

  2. Thanks, Rebecca! I’m glad this series is an enjoyable read. I hope that in some way, it might make a difference for a few people as well. . . and a book is always a fun idea to ponder. (I am always pondering several book topics, it seems…)

  3. elysa Says:

    Tiffany, like you I plan on becoming a professor one day. My time line is a little different than yours though. I plan to work in my field (graphic design) for another few years and then work and go to grad school. I know that I want to be a professor but at this point I have not figured out my specialty. There are so many directions I can go with my design career. I want to explore the options before I decide what to focus on in graduate school.

    In case you hadn’t noticed, I am behind on my blog reading so you will probably be receiving several comments here in a row.

  4. Tiffany Says:

    🙂 I’m loving the multiple comments, so please don’t apologize!

    I’m glad you’re opting for professional experience before grad school. There’s so much knowledge not just about your field, but also about yourself and what you want out of life and career that you get in those first few years in the work world. And those are really critical things to have before you know what you want out of grad school!

  5. […] could go back to school for a master’s in music, just because I love […]

  6. […] that time, I was getting ready to start on my capstone master’s project and finish up my degree, and I was ready to embark on a more defined niche that tied more closely […]

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