Five Things I Wish I Knew About Graduate School

Recently, people have been asking for advice about going to grad school and careers after college. So I usually just share what I wish I’d known before embarking on my grad school journey. Here are my top five things:

1. The atmosphere from undergrad to graduate school is a complete change of pace.

Coming into my graduate career I somewhat expected it to be an extension of undergrad. I imagined there would be more responsibilities, but never in a million years would I have thought the next step would be what it has become…life-changing.

My future depends on the success of my research project, and I am in sole control of the direction and flow of the project. Having that amount of leeway is a different, if not scary, feeling, but with a little bit of luck and opportunity, everything can go well. There is a particular emphasis on finding your success through this part of the journey; finding what makes you happy and progresses you, because success is personal, not standardized. Understanding that concept initially took some time.

2. Everyone is a superstar, some more than others.

In my undergraduate university, I felt like a big fish in a little pond. I thought I was doing everything right and that what I was achieving was monumental. I started my graduate career, and I immediately became the little fish in the biggest pond I’ve ever seen! Everyone here was just like me. Some had backgrounds that were way more extensive than mine.

The intimidation factor is intense at times, but the journey is not theirs to walk, it is yours (or rather mine in my case). Embrace and strengthen what you bring to the table, and use it to progress your success while enhancing and refining your skills. Think of it has having a wealth of resources at your disposal, and all you need to do is ask the right people for the right information.

3. Failures are the biggest lessons.

Learning through failure is a must. Undergraduate studies concentrate on learning through the success, while professional/graduate school flips the script. From that perspective, it is hard to really concentrate and think that you are making progress if the ultimate result the majority of the time is failure. The key lies in learning the details in why the ultimate result was a failure instead of concentrating on the fact that it did fail. Which leads to…

4. Flexibility and adaptability is a must.

The quicker you learn these different lessons, the easier time you will have adjusting to achieving your goal. Life at this stage is no longer linear, and there are multiple solutions to a problem that could be posed at that moment. Understand this, and things will eventually become easier to handle. Yes, I’ve had months and months of failed experiments, but what do I know now?

5. What you put into it is really what you get out of it.

This is just another stepping stone in life that gives you ultimate control over your future. Everything you do today, prepares you for tomorrow, either positively or negatively. Take advantage of those moments for learning, those moments where you have to be flexible, those moments of clarity, and better yourself. You don’t get many shots to better yourself before it starts to count, and this is one of the few times you can take advantage of that. The investment is worth it.

Besides, who wouldn’t want the chance to practice finding and being a better you?

Courtesy of the Northwestern University blog.

Being a Tennessee Tech Graduate Student: John D. Stites

The series “Being a Graduate Student at Tennessee Tech,” is designed to give you insight into the perspectives of our diverse graduate student body. The second installment of our series introduces you to Mr. John D. Stites of Cookeville, TN. Mr. Stites has served as jstitesManaging Director of XI Investments, one of the largest commercial and industrial real estate developers in the Upper Cumberland Region of Middle Tennessee, CEO of J&S Construction Company, Inc. for over 40 years, and as Director of Real Estate Processes for the State of Tennessee. He is a prime example of the change going on in education and career advancement. Those who used to be called non-traditional students are rapidly becoming typical.  So, what are the benefits of going back to graduate school for working professionals?

Check out the following video and hear how such an accomplished professional finds value in a graduate education at Tennessee Tech.

Graduate Studies – Benefits for Working Professionals (Video:

Get information about Tennessee Tech’s graduate programs.




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?


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.