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In need of comments/advice from current grads


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At first I considered these to be more personal questions, but my curiosity got the best of me, and I would really love feedback. I realize that this is a very long post, but if any grad students have the time to answer one, a few, or the whole thing, I appreciate it. Sorry for the long post, I tend to be overly verbose, and my mind is always filled with questions about grad school. I hope that this can also launch an interesting discussion for others as well.

1) my first semester of independent research did not go terribly, but my relationship with the professor as well as our research interests did not match in any sense of the matter. I do not regret this experience, in the long run it was beneficial. It gave me a thicker skin to criticism, and it forced me to push myself in ways that I never thought were possible. My relationship with the professor consisted of this: I would go into his office and he would set his watch for five minutes, and then he would get angry with my for asking too many questions and kick me out. He wanted to limit me to this survey data which ended up greatly restricting the kind of research that I wanted to do, and it ended up hurting my internal and external validity, but it wasn't like it was the worst first research project- I got valuable learning experience regarding how approach a research project step by step. Towards the last half of the semester he told me to not ask him anymore questions...at all. It was hell to say the least, and he ended up giving me a B for the independent research course. Due to this experience I switched labs, and fortunately I realized that my previous research experience with one professor is not generalizable in any sense. I am working with a new professor and we get along great and she is extremely supportive with my research ideas. In your opinion, would you "explain" this B on your transcript as a poor research match? (obviously I am not going to mention all of these minor details about how jerky of a guy he was, personally I just think he is burnt out and needs a vacation) I have other professors who will write my LoRs that can speak of my research abilities in a positive light, or should I not even draw attention to the B I got in independent research? I realize this is just an individuals perspective, but that is what I am looking for here. I really hope that this doesn't hurt me too much in the end, because I have more experience now and I feel more knowledgeable regarding pitfalls with crabby professors and confining- almost suffocating research hypotheses.

2) If you could make a list of "what I wish I would've know before I went to grad school" what would you say about your experience?

3) What is your perspective on masters programs? Do you think that masters programs hurt you in the end, since what I really am striving for is my Phd due to my focus on research and going into academia.

4) If there was a way to self reflect on whether or not I am cut out for grad school is there a set of questions that you wish you would have asked yourself before you applied and accepted the offer to your program? I am a very hard working and diligent person, but if there is something that I am naive to I would rather have that be apparent now, rather than later. I am also aware that the job outlook for professors is glum but I have examined all my other options and I do not want to go into a direct helping field like therapy, school psychology, or guidance counseling. I have already been helping individuals with physical and mental illness/disabilities for years.

5) in some of the research reports I am reading now have stats that I am unfamiliar with. They appear to be more advanced than a basic undergrad stats class. Should I be worried about this? If I get accepted do they expect you to just read a highly advanced study and comprehend every minute detail? Should I consider taking an upper level stats class in my senior year?

6) I realize that I do not have many awards or distinctions, some applicants I have noticed have recieved alot of obscure awards that I haven't really heard of, I slowly adjusted and switched my major several times before deciding on psychology. Do professors/ grad committees really like to see awards?

7) In my Sophomore year I took a semester off to really think about what I wanted to do in my life. Do I mention this somewhere in my application? It was a good thing, I realized that being a psych major was what I wanted to do in the end. Personal times of questioning yourself are definitely not a negative things in my eyes, but I was wondering if it is worth explaining this somewhere in my application.

8) and lastly if you could describe what a day in grad school is like as well any other bits of advice that is greatly appreciated.

I also am I aware that some of these may overlap, but thanks for reading this long post if you took the time.

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  • 2 weeks later...

1) I would not even draw attention to the B. If you have good recommendation letters, a decent overall GPA, and decent GRE scores, no one is going to care about it.

2) I don't really have an answer to this question right now. If I think of something then I'll let you know.

3) A Master's program will do for you what you make of it. I completed a dual-sequence Master's program in social and quantitative psychology and I gained a great deal of extra research experience, experience giving oral and poster conference presentations, and a strong background in statistics. And I got into University of Michigan's social psych PhD program, about which I'm thrilled. If you treat a Master's program like undergraduate studies plus one research project then it may not help as much as if you treat a Master's program like an opportunity to gain lots of research experience.

4) Grad school is a means to an end, not the end itself. The question you need to ask is whether or not you're cut out for a career doing what you want to do after grad school (e.g., academia, if that's your goal). Then you can ask if you can do what it takes to get there (go to grad school). Ask yourself what skills and motivation people in your eventual career need to have. If you have or believe that you can gain that skill and motivation, then you can handle grad school.

5) You probably need to know nothing or almost nothing about statistics when you enter grad school. Your intro stats course will review the majority of what you covered in undergrad. That being said, as a quant guy, I think it's a great idea to take more stats if you are interested in a research career. Even if you cover the material again in grad school, the review is helpful and will make taking the grad courses a bit easier.

6) Awards/distinctions probably help a little, but I doubt that they're terribly important if you demonstrate elsewhere that you are willing and able to succeed as a student and researcher.

7) I went to undergrad for three years at one school, transferred to go to a Catholic seminary for a year, left the seminary, was out of school for a year and half, transferred back to my original undergrad institution to finish, and then completed a Master's program before applying to PhD programs. I received offers of admissions from three decent programs. For your applications you will have the opportunity to write a Statement of Purpose. In this statement, provided that there is space (the word limit varies greatly between schools), you will have the opportunity to demonstrate why you want to go to grad school and communicate that you know what you want. I think it's great that you took the time to seriously consider what you want to do and would be surprised if anyone looked at that negatively. There are many applicants to graduate programs who did not take a straightforward route to get there (i.e., four year bachelor's straight out of high school without a break and immediate application to PhD programs). You will not be alone among your fellow applicants.

8) Busy, but not killer if you don't overcommit. I can't speak to the PhD program, but from my experience in the Master's program, you have more going on at a time than undergrad. The time that you would have spent in clubs, organizations, or just taking down time in undergrad is occupied with classwork, research, and teaching. That being said, I think people tend to exaggerate the workload. You have enough time to stay connected and social with people on a regular basis, as long as you don't become a workaholic or only make friends with workaholics. My schedule was a bit tighter because I commuted an hour to get to my Master's program, but generally I would arrive early in the day, go to class, eat lunch, more class, teach, run research, and spend most of the evening doing homework or reading research articles and writing. Three or four nights a week I would go grab drinks with people in the evening, and generally I would find people to work with as well. I saved grading for weekends. Weekends were also busy with homework, reading/writing for research, and grading, but I was always able to go out on Friday or Saturday nights. Maybe it's different in the PhD program, but I'm under the impression that people who don't have time to go out in grad school made too many commitments or have a hard time stepping away from work. I think the biggest difference between undergrad and grad school is that you will always have something to do. You don't come to a point where your work for the week is finished, because you have other projects with approaching deadlines or with unclear deadlines. But as long as you stay organized, you pretty much always finish your work on time without eliminating your social life.

If you have any more questions feel free to respond here or send me a message.

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