Dear Mother… Dear Father… Dear No-Gender-Specific Parent…

In previous posts, I’ve discussed the reality of higher education and jobs, and I’ve gave you 5 very compelling reasons not to go to graduate school.  I’m more than happy to equip you with these tid-bits of information.

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However, you might be a person who has reached the graduate school level.  You probably did everything right and you don’t need my help.  Cool.  But, you need to know how to properly choose your adviser.  This is critical.  This is the person you are going to work closely with for the next 3-4 years of your life.  This person will shape how you think and what kind of researcher you will be.  They are your *insert field of study here* mother/father/parent.

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 You need to do proper investigation:

1)  Determine a professor’s research interests.

If you don’t care even a little about what someone is doing research in, you’ll hate your time and you will lack motivation and you will suffer.  Three years doesn’t seem like a long time, but it drags on and on.

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Remember in High School when you would watch the clock during the last hour of the day… yeah, the last three years will be like that.

One way to get a really good idea of what a professor does: read his/her/their papers.  You may not be able to understand everything, but if you think “oh man, this is cool!” or “that is really interesting, I want to know more” or even “this goes over my head, I love the fact this person is a genius”… then you will want to take the next step with this professor.

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2)  Sit in on your POI.

First, it’s best if you’ve had a class with your POI or if you’ve attended a research presentation (which you should begin attending after your first semester) they’ve given.  Then, you know how this person teaches or how this person presents.  This helps in that you’ll know how they’ll advise/guide you.  You can determine whether their style works for you that way.

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3) Meet with the professor of interest (POI).

However, if you haven’t been so lucky… a meeting with your POI will have to do.  Tell them you are interested in research with them.  Ask them questions like: what basic background material would I need? or, what classes should I take? or, are there papers/books not given in class that I can read to do what you do? are you open to answering questions I may have?  how often will you expect me to meet with you?  what are other responsibilities you expect? etc.

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Problems with this method: people always behave better before you get to know them.  It’s later down the line that you will learn how wrong this person is for you.  The next item addresses how to avoid this.

3) Talk to students who are studying under or who have studied under your POI.

Students who have already graduated will most likely be more honest about their experience.   Students currently working with the POI may not be completely honest in fear; plus, it’s not very professional to spread gossip.  Despite this, though, you can tell by the answer (or lack thereof) what kind of professor he/she/they are.  A professor worthy of praise will be praised.  A professor who is hard in a disrespectful way will either have silent students or students who will complain behind closed doors.

4) REGs are an excellent way to judge a POI.

Most graduate programs will provide funding for summer research projects with professors.  Working with your POI for a summer is a great way to determine whether you will continue to work well together.

Note: Everyone has their annoying quirks.  You need to determine whether you can look beyond the POI’s treatment of you in order to obtain your degree.  Will this professor have you present at conferences and thus provide you networking relationships?  Will this professor help you submit several papers?  Will this professor be the one to help you pass your defense?  These are questions you can determine by asking the POI-students.  The compromise is determined by you.

Recommendation:  None of these things are worth giving up your dignity and self-respect.  Even if you don’t have any of the benefits, by walking away, you’ll at least have your self-worth.  I speak from my failure to do so..

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Share in the comments the way you chose your adviser!

It’s Not What You Think

Note:  Everything I say is based on my own college/graduate school experience.  To help others from making my mistakes.

Youth just don’t know.  They are listening to adults.  Adults who still think a college education is the end-all-be-all.  It’s not true anymore.

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For first generation students, you’ll go to college thinking: this is it.  After college I can be a self-sufficient adult, and I can start my own family.  I’ll have a career by time I am 23, so I’ll have children by time I’m 25.  It’s later than my own parents, but it’s okay because I’ll still be 45 when my own child goes to college. blah. blah. blah.  Graduating college is the biggest accomplishment first generation students will EVER think to strive toward.  At least.. that is how it was for me.

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I didn’t know anything.  My mom didn’t know anything.  My grandparents, my aunts and uncles, all the people I looked up to in my family didn’t know anything.  Teachers and guidance counselors never talk about anything except getting into college.  No one ever talks about what happens after the acceptance.. what happens in college.. what happens when you graduate.. students are so uninformed, it’s not even funny.  The best thing you can ever be is informed..

Many, many, many students are going to college now.  So many.  Just think about it.  Wikipedia (a source you aren’t allowed to use in ANYTHING, but it’s extremely useful) says there were 21 MILLION students in college in the US as of 2012.. There are probably at least 1 million more.. and that is only in the US.  If all these people are getting degrees, what is the point?

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That IS the point, isn’t it?  In order to get into a good college, it’s stressed for students to have good GPAs and to participate in clubs and to join Honor Societies and to volunteer and to diversify and to blah blah blah.  I’m in awe of the youth who do all of this AND have to deal with bullsh** in their personal lives.  YOU are amazing individuals.

It doesn’t end when you get in though.  You’re told that if you want a good job you have to keep doing all those things.  Except, there are more distractions when you are away from home for the first time.. and so many students suffer because they’ve made the wrong decisions regarding these exploits.  It’s more difficult to keep that GPA and participate in those clubs or to volunteer.. but, you can’t get that job without ALL these things.

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In fact, you have to do more than what you’re told.  You need INTERNSHIPS and WORK EXPERIENCE.  A college education isn’t enough anymore.  So many companies are looking for people who have 3+ years of experience.  Even if they are willing to hire a new graduate, they are looking for qualities that come from experience.  That means, you need to find out what these skills are and earn them in your 4 years of college.

It’s a lot.  I know… but you are competing with 21 MILLION students.. and many of those students are adults going back to get their education after the 3+ years of experience.  I don’t know about you, but I NEVER get picked for dodge ball when I’m a player and I ALWAYS choose the person who knows what they are doing when I’m the captain.

When you don’t have these extra tidbits under your belt, you’ll have a hard time finding a job.  That’s when you’ll contemplate graduate school.  You’re thinking: I went to college like I was supposed to.. I did everything I was told.. and it still wasn’t enough.. I’m still working this shi**y retail job serving these shi**y people.. I can’t do this the rest of my life.. What can I do?

And you think graduate school is the place to be.

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But it’s not.

In fact, it’s worse than getting a Bachelor’s degree.  I list reasons you shouldn’t go in another post.  You need more.  All the extracurricular activities (volunteer work, honor societies, internships, good GPA) that made you look good before still stand.. but now you need to submit/publish papers, present at conferences, teach classes, participate in research groups.. In other words, gaining your professional experience while earning your degree.. all the while pretending you know what you are saying and doing..  all the while feeling as though you are an imposter..

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People without a higher education stress that higher education is the way to go because they see everyone around them getting raises and promotions.  It’s not true.  What you need to succeed is BOTH.  You need professional experience in your field of interest.  You need a degree to show those mother-effers that you are worthy.  You don’t need just one middle finger, you need both middle fingers straight up as a statement that you did more than everything right.  You went above and beyond.

Please share advice in the comments for the youth deciding upon undergraduate school or graduate school.