Tiffany graduated from Ball State with a degree in secondary education in 2008, from Purdue with a M.S.Ed. in 2013, and with a PhD from Purdue in 2016. She is currently focusing on writing and raising her newborn, Ezra.
For some people, college is the end of their academic career. For me, finishing my undergraduate degree at Ball State was the first of three degrees I would need to pursue my dream of becoming a professor of education. I enrolled in a master’s program in Literacy and Language Education at Purdue University in fall 2011 and in their doctoral program in fall 2013. I just graduated with my PhD this month, May 2016. While I have since decided not to pursue a job as a professor (mainly due to personal conflicts with my husband’s job and now having a newborn at home), I believe my time as a graduate student taught me very valuable things regarding higher education. A few things for people who are considering it:
- Graduate school will (and I believe should) consume you. Give it your all! Throw yourself in and experience all you can. But experience things that you enjoy or you will be miserable. I taught undergrad courses, researched for professors and collected data, supervised student teachers, made connections with local administrators and teachers, and presented at national conferences. Luckily for me, the majority of my experiences were rewarding.
- Read and write all that you can. You have ample time to just focus! It’s a great gift. Read and write what you need to, sure. But also, read and write what you enjoy. A lot of people talk about how draining and terrible the dissertation process is. I loved it! I was passionate about my dissertation and loved reading and writing for it.
- It is not an exaggeration to say that a mentor can make or break you. If any networking was important to success in graduate school, it was relationships cultivated with faculty. If the advisor assigned to you isn’t a good fit, branch out! Meet other professors and work with them or cultivate a mentor/mentee relationship over coffee. You need people in your corner who understand what you’re going through and understand the system.
- The hardest thing about recommending graduate school is that most programs are preparing you to go back into academia as a professor. If you want to do that, great! But understand that some disciplines have a failing job market and there just are not enough jobs out there. If your program isn’t prepared or doesn’t prioritize preparing you for a job outside the academy, be proactive about it. During my PhD program, when I knew I wasn’t going on the job market, I made sure to acquire job experience that would translate elsewhere. I pursued jobs outside of my discipline and now have skills and experience that I would not have had otherwise. The opportunities exist!
Don’t go to graduate school just for the sake of going to graduate school. Be sure to have a specific goal in mind and a back up, just in case the first doesn’t work out. Also, I believe graduate school should be beneficial in several ways. I mentioned the academic and employment aspects earlier, but graduate school was also financially worthwhile for me. I didn’t pay for my master’s program or my doctoral program. I was paid to work for the university and received tuition remission. Several semesters I actually made what I was making teaching middle school. Even though my goal changed, graduate school was a rewarding and profitable overall experience for me.
Consider carefully. Be passionate. Surround yourself with good people. Think long-term.