Hello everyone and welcome to my blog!
For my first post, I wanted to open up about what has been the hardest thing for me about the application process so far, and that is the feeling of not being good enough. Reading through the posts on GradCafe and seeing all the wonderful things people have done, I can't help but feel like I don't measure up. This is my fourth year working in labs and I have no publications. My GRE math score is...meh. My honors thesis is still in progress and so I don't have a neat, packaged project that I can talk about or submit as a writing sample.
I'm still applying.
I feel like it's easy to forget that the kind of people who post on sites like this tend to not be representative of the applicant pool as a whole, and that there do exist those of us who are applying without 10+ years of related work experience or 5+ published journal articles. My hope is to give readers some insight about what the application process is like for those of us who feel like we might not stand out as much because we don't have those things. Because that's actually not true. My first piece of advice for people who find that they're in my situation is to remember that it's all relative. For example, if you're still in undergrad, there's no way that a grad school will expect you to have as much research experience as someone who has been out of school much longer. Additionally, a lack of published articles is not a death sentence if you can convey in your application that you've gained valuable research skills. This applies both for current undergraduates such as myself, as well as those who have a master's or have been working for a while. Finally, even if someone looks "better" on paper than you, you might actually be the one with a better research fit.
So, even though it can be difficult, don't be intimidated by your perceived competition. Remember to put the process into perspective and trust that if you highlight your strengths in your application you will end up where you're supposed to be.
The whole reason I wanted to start a blog on here was to try, as realistically as possible, to answer the question, "so what's grad school really like," on this platform that seems to be mostly consumed by "so how do I get into grad school?". Admittedly, when I first started this blog, I had the best intentions of posting more regularly than "those other guys." So here I am, a year later, attempting to make up for it. So here we go, I'm going to break it into sections for the sake of readability. PLEASE, keep in mind, all of this is from my very limited perspective of a first generation, first year, queer, man of color, from the South, living in a major city and attending the only grad program I applied to.
Moving cross country to a new city
As a general personality trait, I'm a huge fan of change. I get bored easily and like to mix things up. So for me, moving across the country, to a city in which I didn't know anyone was just a huge, exciting adventure. I know that for some people, change produces a ton of anxiety. So for those readers, you'll probably want to take everything I say with a grain of salt.
Anyways, the move was great! I ended up really lucky in the housing search and used Craigslist to find both of the apartments I've lived in here. Exploring the city and getting into a routine of going to this grocery store instead of that one and this park being my spot to relax and destress, was fun. Seattle quickly became home for me.
One of the best decisions I made when moving to Seattle was finding housing with folks not in my program, or associated with my school at all. I also joined a church pretty early on. My program has a strong focus on community development and it's pretty easy to make friends within, but for the sake of emotional sanity, it's been great to have friends who have no idea what I do for 8 (or more) hours a day. I'd definitely recommend other folks going to grad school in a new place to invest in a community outside of your program, if possible.
Despite the media myths of grad school = buried in books and nothing else for the next x years, I've spent more of the past year intentionally building relationships, exploring my interests, and just enjoying life that I ever have. Though, this could very well be contributed to the location of my program in a major city.
With my program being pretty small (about 60 folks in total) I have noticed that the internal drama can be exhausting and pretty ridiculous at times. Granted, my field is a very personal one and the culture of the university calls us to bring out whole selves (baggage and all) to the table.
In some ways, the classroom experience was exactly what I was expecting, in some ways, it's less than I was expecting, but in other ways, it's way more than I was expecting.
As expected, there are lots more reading assignments than I was accustomed to in undergrad. But most of the time, I'm fine as long as I get the drift of what the assigned reading was about. It's less than I was expecting because I often find myself feeling like my classes and those responsibilities feel like an unnecessary addition to the work I'm doing with students in my assistantship and internships; that's pretty disappointing. But at the other extreme, there have been many times when I've had conversations in classrooms that I didn't think could happen in such settings and have genuinely changed the way I think about the world. I live for those conversations, and that's why I'm okay with spending more money than my mom makes in a year for tuition.
This is the one area in which I, admittedly, should have done more research before making this huge life decision. Seattle is EXPENSIVE. And, in my particular case, the coveted GA position doesn't cover living expenses, much less living and tuition. This has led to me working part time for a period, and taking out more loans than I expected. This is probably the biggest downfall of my program, but I was privileged enough to not have to take out any loans for undergrad so it's not a huge deal for me and I probably would have made the same decision if I had then, all the information I have now...although I probably would have been a bit more careful about how I spent my savings during my time off between undergrad and grad school.
I definitely feel like my chances of getting a job in my chosen field have increased tenfold in the past year. I've learned more than I could have begun to imagine, and it's made me even more excited to start my career. Also, necessary sidenote, I've reluctantly to see the benefit of strong alumni networks and I'm definitely grateful that my program comes with one of those.
Did I make the right choice?
100% yes. If I could go back, I wouldn't change anything. There was definitely a time when I wished I'd applied to more programs, there were times when I wished I would have gone to a program that was fully funded and in a cheaper city, there were times I wished I would have stayed closer to home. But if I could go back in time, knowing all that I know now, I would do it all again. This experience has been, by far, the most life changing year ever, and I'm excited to see where the next one takes me.
Please, feel more than welcome to send me messages about student affairs, Seattle, moving cross country, or anything else. I'm not as acitive here as I once was, but I will get back to you!