Life as a Graduate Student

Although the term college is used to reflect earning a bachelor’s degree or some type of graduate degree, the two experiences are very different.  Yes, you will be attending classes, either online or in person, that are conducted by professors with experience not only at teaching but also real world experience in the subject matter.  However, a bachelor’s degree is an introduction to the basics.  A graduate degree, whether it is a master’s or Ph. D., is much more in depth and specific.  You will gain much more specialized knowledge and skills that will allow you to pursue a particular niche in your field.

Experience in the work force centered on your field of choice can be a real advantage.  Although it is possible for people to go straight from their bachelor program right to a graduate degree, this is not the norm.  Most people finish up their bachelor degree and go to work for a couple of years before pursuing a graduate degree.  The extra experience helps solidify their choice of programs and gives them a foundation to learn from.

Typical Classroom of a Graduate Degree

As stated earlier, classes at the graduate level are much different than the undergraduate classes.  The average coursework in a graduate school will demand a lot of reading from its students.  Students must allow plenty of time before and after class to adequately read over the material.  At this level professors do not review outlines and point out the important sections of a chapter or book.  Instead, discussions will be held between the professors and class.  People are encouraged to ask questions and offer up their own theories.

If you completed any research papers in undergraduate school you will find that the papers expected at the graduate level.  Graduate papers are very complex in their writing and nature.  Professors expect work worthy of a scholarly title.  The subject matter will be a tiny subset of a much bigger topic, giving you a chance to analyze and scrutinize every facet of the material.  Along with the increased complexity of the work come increased critiques from your instructors as well as classmates.  A successful student takes the critique to heart and learns from their mistakes, rather than lashing out in retaliation.

The goal of research papers is to teach you the proper writing and research necessary to complete your thesis.  It can seem difficult to complete a thesis paper if you have never worked on a project of this magnitude.  However, with proper planning and organization of your time you will be able to finish your paper and submit it in order to complete your degree.

Anybody that wishes to earn a graduate degree must be able to think on their own.  To that end, it is expected that graduate students will offer meaningful contributions to discussions among classmates and with professors.  When some new material or theory seems confusing, sitting back and waiting for the answer to be given to them is not acceptable.  They must have the initiative to do the necessary research in order to get the answer that they need.  This is where access to and familiarity with using the internet for research can be invaluable.  Class sizes typically are small, knit groups where you learn as much from discussions as you do from reading.

Research in Graduate Courses

Along with presenting your research to your class you also will have some of your work published and you may be asked to make a presentation at a seminar.  When it comes time to prepare your thesis you need to proclaim your findings with authority.  Somebody somewhere may take an interest in your work and even offer to help you with the work in exchange for some of the credit.  It is vital that you stay current with the latest improvements and best practices of your field in order to complete your class assignments and participate in class.

It is also a good idea to start building up your network.  You are going to meet people who may be pivotal players in a variety of industries.  These connections can help advance your career or they may be the best candidates for potential job openings at your company.  You can network with people at your school or with peers that you meet at the various seminars.

Getting Back to the Real World after Graduation

If you were working for a company and the idea of a graduate degree is to advance your career with that same company, you should be in good shape.  On the other hand, if you are pursuing a degree in order to start a new job then you have some more work ahead of you.  It can take some time to find appropriate work.  While your specialty makes you valuable, it also limits your potential jobs.  Focusing on a career that appeals to you strongly and puts your talents to their best use will help you to find the work that makes you the happiest.