Warning: I undertand that this lengthy post will perhaps burst someone’s education bubble and shake up some realities. These are merely my thoughts and opinions formed through experience. I encourage you to take them with a grain of salt and do what is truly best for you.
I was perusing the internet gathering tips on how to find a job, since I graduate into the “real world” in mid-May of this year, and I happened to stumble upon some really great advice – advice I wish I would have strongly considered taking before deciding to go to graduate school. Now, I’m not saying don’t pursue more education…I’m all for that. Heck, I was a McNair/SROP summer scholar, so I know education is important – especially for those of us who are apart of groups that are underrepresented in higher education. But, before you unwittingly declare that you’re going to go to graduate school, I encourage you to so some deep self-assessment about what your goals are, what you want, who you are, and what you will (realistically) accomplish with another degree. Let’s keep it real, shall we?
To remind those of you who know me and to enlighten those of you who don’t, I’m currently a Master’s student studying Media. For some weird reason, I always knew that an undergraduate education was not going to be my last stop on the academic track, but I also always knew that I wanted to be a broadcast journalist/media mogul. I didn’t even entertain the thought of getting a job right out of undergrad, and instead, focused all of my energy to applying to graduate school. Partly because of all the talk of the horrible economy and the high unemployment numbers. Plus, after graduate school, I just knew (or thought I knew) that I would be okay, that I would find a cool job that paid a little more because I had some extra letters behind my name, and that I would really satisfy my appetite for knowledge of all things media.
Then reality hit and I learned tons of lessons while
hiding out in graduate school. I learned:
- Grad school really isn’t a good way to deal with uncertainty. While the facts and figures the economists on the news were spitting out were very intimidating, that was no reason for me to go into hiding from the reality of things. For me, graduate school delayed actually getting hands-on experience in a field that it is necessary to get hands-on experience in. I’ve always been certain about what I wanted to do (or at least had a general idea of it), so my career path isn’t the type of uncertainty that I’m talking about for me. Honestly, a graduate degree wasn’t imperative for me to reach that goal. My uncertainty was the economy, and retrospectively, I think I partly let the idea of a “bad economy” influence my decision to get another degree when I could have used that time gathering valuable experience in an entry-level position elsewhere. I was just delaying the inevitable.
- Unless you want to teach/practice, an “arts” graduate degree in the humanities (ie: communications and English) is not necessary. This point really jives with the first one. If you’re like me and want to build a career in an industry, get out and get some experience at an entry-level job with room for growth. Here’s a reality check: in most cases, going back to school or going straight through to grad school is not really going to get you greater earning power than your undergraduate counterparts. Shocking, I know. Even my own career placement advisor here at my university told me that without related job experience, I will mostly likely start off at the same level an undergraduate. I just have an M.A. behind my name and am a little older. Awesome.
- Grad school (in the humanities) is an(other) academic socialization process. Obvious, right? For me, it wasn’t. I thought graduate school would offer me the ability to get the hands-on experience I craved. After all, my school is known for producing some great journalists, marketing execs, and PR people — in the undergraduate programs, that is. The graduate program and the undergraduate programs are like night and day. I’m learning theory and pedagogy. Great for the classroom…not so great for the working world. I doubt on an interview, I will be asked to break down the cycle of news media and public opinion. Now, I must offer a disclaimer here: not all graduate programs in the humanities, especially in the media, are as theory-based. There are some programs that incorporate theory and practice, BUT most of the time, with no funding to those enrolled. So, no scholarships remitting tuition or stipends in exchange for teaching or research duties, which is what I am fortunate enough to have. While I still got valuable hands-on experience working as an intern, I had to seek these opportunities out for myself. They weren’t offered within my program. Instead, I was being “groomed” for the Ph.D and the academy through socialization: T.A. and R.A. responsibilities, conference-length research papers, and chats resuming class discussions over drinks at the nearby lounge/cafe. All these things are great! I’ve been apart of some great discussions and wrote some darn good papers, but all of this is not going to get me closer to my career goal. I know how to be an academic with my eyes closed after this experience, coupled with my undergraduate experience. What I don’t know is how to be a broadcast journalist — yet.
So, with all of these lessons learned, I encourage those of you who are considering going to graduate school (in the humanities, especially) to think about it. Really think about it. It’s not for the faint of heart. Don’t use graduate school as an escape plan, because reality is still waiting after those 2 or 3 years are done.
With all of that said, I’m sure the question that remains is: why are you in graduate school and did you gain anything positive? I did have some very positive experiences and I am glad that I went to graduate school! Why? Well, you’re going to have to read part 2 to learn about that…Stay tuned.