What to Expect When Entering Graduate School

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Let’s get this out of the way. Graduate school is different than college.

Getting a master’s degree or Ph.D. is a different experience than earning a certificate, associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree. Sure, all require you to attend classes taught by experienced professors, but that is the extent to which they are similar. Where undergraduate programs provide you with a basic foundation in your field of interest, a master’s degree or Ph.D. program builds upon that knowledge, allowing you to specialize within that field. Your work is more directed, and you are less supervised by professors who serve more as a guide and mentor than an undergraduate professor.

Because most class sizes are smaller, participation is especially important.

Having prior work experience can help immensely with the transition into life as a graduate student. Undergraduate students may complete an internship before the end of their senior year, if they plan on heading right to graduate school. Some people choose to wait a year or more after graduation to get their master’s degree so they can gain real world experience that will help them with their research.

So what exactly is it like to attend a master’s degree program? Expect to do a lot of reading in your graduate program, maybe more reading than you’ve ever done in your life. Keep up with it as best as you can. Do not expect to go to class and have a professor read an outline to you, detailing all information in the assigned reading. This practice is reserved for undergraduates who are just being introduced to the material for the first time. Rather, master’s degree and Ph.D. professors will conduct discussions on the topic, allowing room for questions, concerns and new ideas.

Higher Standards

Depending on your focus and the undergraduate school attended, your prior research paper assignments may have not been held to the strictest of standards. An acceptable graduate research paper will demonstrate more complex sentence structure and will be more scholarly in nature. Rather than answering a broad question, you will delve deeper to examine a small, but relevant aspect of the topic. With these research papers, you should expect more criticism from your professors and your peers. Learn from this criticism, and you are well on your way to becoming a successful graduate student.

Your research assignments should prepare you for your writing your thesis, or your final research paper required to get your master’s degree. Choosing a thesis topic can be seem overwhelming if you’ve never completed a project of that size. Keep in mind that successful thesis papers are written by organized, planned and dedicated students.

A graduate student is a leader and an independent thinker. Thus they must lead and fully participate in discussions and seminars. If they don’t understand a concept after class, they do not wait for someone to hand them the answer. They remain proactive in their education, trek down to the library and research to answer their question. The speed at which the internet can retrieve information is especially valuable for graduate students. Often students have links bookmarked to help them in their graduate studies. Because most class sizes are smaller, participation is especially important. Sometimes, you will have to support your thoughts and ideas during a discussion or debate.

Graduate School Research

Beyond the classroom, you will be sharing your research with others by presenting it at seminars and by having your papers published. Your research will culminate in writing a thesis or a dissertation. Don’t be modest or humble about your research. You never know who will be interested in it, and more importantly who is willing to partner with you to conduct it. For both research and class work assignments, reading and keeping up to date on the industries practices are important to having the most relevant research.

Networking is especially important at graduate school. It is here that you have the potential to form long lasting friendships and business partnerships. In graduate school, most networking is done at these seminars. Nobody is going to know what you are interested in, or what work you have done unless you present it. Networking is also common at an internship or apprenticeship completed while doing their graduate studies.

Life After Graduate School

Graduate students who already have a career, and were taking the degree program in order to advance in that career have less to worry about after graduation. However, those students in their last year of studies and do not have a job in their prospective field should begin their career search immediately. There’s some good news and some bad news when it comes to the job search. Bad news first: The search process is most likely going to take a while. The good news: If you keep your search diligent and focused, you should expect to land a full-time position.

Because of the still shaky state of the economy, some graduate schools have extended their career services to recent graduates who are having trouble securing a job. For example, in 2009, Cornell University’s S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management assigned career advisers to each student at the beginning of the school year. By the end of the year, 95% were well on their way to starting their careers.

Source: http://www.campusexplorer.com/college-advice-tips/A2F79A64/What-to-Expect-From-Graduate-School/

 

Being a Tennessee Tech Graduate Student: Amanda Ellis

What’s it like to be a graduate student at Tennessee Tech?  We’re exploring that from the student perspective.  We hope you enjoy this and the forthcoming series of posts on “Being a Tennessee Tech Graduate Student.”

Tell us a little about yourself… Who are you?

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My name is Amanda Rae Ellis, and I am a full-time employee at TTU’s iCube and a full-time student in the Exceptional Learning Ph.D. program. I’m a virtual reality producer, writer, gamer, singer, reader, and overall nerd.

What was your process for deciding to apply for graduate school? Talk about any anxiety, issues you had, etc.

I believe there was a plan in place since my junior year of college to get me into graduate school, driven by my mentor Dr. Julie Baker. She planted the original “why don’t you get a graduate degree” seed in my head, and after I graduated and left campus, she was the one to help me get a job back here. When I did start working for Tech, I was worried about starting classes, that it would cut into my free time since I would still be working full time. After a couple of semesters, I applied to the program. I realized I could improve my current job by continuing my education in a related field, so that is what is motivating me to graduate!

To how many schools did you apply?

Tech was the only school I applied to.

How was the GRE? Did you use preparatory services?

Since I hadn’t had math in quite a long while, I was nervous about passing it. I studied with a friend taking it at the same time, which helped because it made me feel like we were in it together. We marked problematic questions and asked another friend to talk us through the problems. It was a team effort, highly supported by friends, and after the exam we both had passing grades to get into our programs. It was a huge relief.

Tell us about the program you selected. Why did you select your program?  What are your career aspirations?

I selected the Ph.D. in Exceptional Learning with a concentration in literacy because I want to use this opportunity to research virtual reality as a new way of communicating, especially as it can be applied to the classroom. At iCube, we’re making simulations mainly for education, and as someone who is involved in most of those projects, I wanted to make sure we were making something usable and effective. In the future, I would love to continue working at iCube as a “virtual reality producer” while potentially teaching a class at Tech for pre-service teachers on how to utilize videogames in the classroom.

What bits of advice would you give to someone thinking about graduate school?

Do it! It’s a little overwhelming at first, but it’s expected. Everyone is overwhelmed, no one really knows 100% what they’re doing at the beginning, but you have peers further along in the program to help you through it and, hopefully, amazing advisors like those in the College of Education. Your mentors want to see you succeed, so don’t let the fear of failing stop you from trying. Every semester you get through gives you an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, and I can only imagine graduating will be one of the highlights of our lives.

What are your classes like? How hard are they really?

My first few classes were potentially a little more difficult than what the average doctorate student experiences because I did not start the program with a Master’s degree. Research, literature reviews, and conflicting opinions were relatively new to me. After a couple of courses I felt more comfortable with the first two, but I still struggle with the third, almost in a good way. It’s exciting to be challenged on what you think, but it’s also slightly terrifying if you’re not used to it. I found it difficult to speak in class sometimes because I was second guessing myself in what I thought and didn’t want to be questioned about what I shared. After a while you realize the freedom in having an opinion and still be respected by your peers, because literally everyone has conflicting thoughts. No two people will believe the exact same thing, meaning that everyone is always “right” and always “wrong” in a way. The faster you figure that out, the easier the courses will be.

One hears a lot about Tennessee Tech’s caring and supportive community. What’s your experience?

I hope every other college on campus has the same support I receive in the College of Education. I would have dropped out a thousand times already (and I’m just now finishing up my first year) if it wasn’t for the encouraging, “you can do it” feedback I received every time I felt overwhelmed. They make sure I have everything I need, make sure I’m signing up for what I need to take, and spend, literally, hours helping me with a problem if I need it. My iCube office is also supportive of my educational pursuits, encouraging me to keep going through the program for my own personal benefit and the future implications it could mean for the office having someone with my background work on our virtual reality projects. I would say I have more caring people in my life than I ever had before joining the program, or at least more actively and outwardly caring people. That’s something they don’t tell you you’ll get, but I don’t see how anyone would make it through grad school if it wasn’t true.

 

 

Tennessee Tech Graduate Studies Blog

Welcome to the Tennessee Tech Graduate Studies Blog.  Along with other Tennessee Tech University Blogs, we provide content and information for the Tennessee Tech community.  This blog focuses on graduate students and will include video, photos and other content such as short and long posts about and from our students. We’ll handle topics like: What’s a typical day like? What are some research and teaching opportunities? How is a graduate education funded?  What does one do for fun in Cookeville, TN and the Upper Cumberland region?  So whether you’re a current, past or future graduate student, this blog is for you.

Learn more about graduate education at Tennessee Tech.