I never expected to be in grad school. When I started my undergrad, I was the type of person who didn’t care about my GPA because I thought I didn’t need it for the future. The academic world seemed more of a buzzkill than an inspirational house of knowledge for me. However, after I graduated my expectations about the real world were a bit shattered. Needless to say, I couldn’t find a full-time job. Or maybe I only pretended to look for a job, when in reality, I was not ready to fully enter adulthood.
As I look back at my undergrad years, I must admit that there are a lot of things that I should have done differently. For instance, I didn’t really bother joining any clubs or trying to find any on-campus jobs that would help me get at least some sort of experience in my field. Take it from me, if you have a chance to get some possible hands-on experience in the area you want to pursue post-grad, take anything you can (and you can make it sound a lot fancier on your resume).
The problem with me was that I thought I had so much time during my four years at school that I missed the point of no return when I was thrown into the real world without even realizing it. After applying to grad school on a whim because I was tired of sitting at home (and getting nagged by my parents), I got in. I debated over going for a couple weeks, before I finally decided that giving myself two more years of not looking for a serious full-time job might not be such a bad idea. I have now finished my first semester, and not even for a second do I regret my decision for applying.
At first I thought that my grad school experience would be an undergrad re-do sort of thing. I thought I would join on campus clubs and be more active in the school’s social life. Was I wrong! When you are in your undergrad, you get the chance to skip classes because there are so many people and no one notices your absence. You have that extra time to yourself. In grad school, participation means actual participation in class seminars. It does not mean you get 10% just for showing up. It’s difficult not to get noticed by your professors when there are 10-30 people in each class. In addition, I just felt old being on campus again, I thought I would be out of place if I joined any school events. What fun activities do graduate students do then? They attend seminars and conferences. Majority of the people that I have met in grad school enjoy what they are studying A LOT! That means they look for events and speakers that discuss topics that could relate to their thesis.
The benefit of going to school for something you enjoy is that your classes are more relevant to what you are actually interested in. In addition, the people in your classes are also interested in these things, which gives you great opportunities to make like-minded friends. The fact that your classes are so small makes it easier to develop friendships. Everyone in your class will know your name (unless you are a leper). You will also develop a relationship with each one of your professors. During my undergrad, I would mostly email my TAs if there was a problem, and maybe only about three professors knew me by name (which they would forget by the beginning of the next semester). During grad school, your professors will value your opinion on a different level. This means that even though more is expected of you, the professors are also more lenient and actually don’t penalize you for having a different opinion than them.
I definitely don’t regret going to grad school, but I know that I will not go for my PhD. You really have to love what you are studying, and not be afraid to disappear into the academia world from the rest of the society for weeks or maybe even months. If that is something that sounds interesting to you, don’t hesitate to apply.