Lindberg: Graduate school should not be a default plan

Katie Lindberg

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

For many students, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, graduate school is a default post-college plan. It shouldn’t be. Graduate school can be necessary and rewarding, but it shouldn’t be anyone’s default plan without thinking it through.

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Many students who continue into graduate school end up learning the hard way that they have no idea what they are getting in to. Instead, students ought to do thorough research before deciding if they want or need a graduate degree.

Students should begin by considering why they want to follow the graduate path. The most common reasons are perfectly understandable: a passion for a subject, higher pay, job advancement or career goals like professor or mental health counselor which require an advanced degree.

Personally, I liked the idea of being called “doctor.” One reason that’s hard to admit, despite how common it is, that students choose to go on to graduate school: in the face of the terrifying blank slate of post-college life, the familiar academic bubble that graduate school offers becomes too tempting to resist.

If you’re feeling called out, that’s okay. This is a critical first step to making sure you put the proper amount of time and thought into the decision to go to graduate school.

Passion for a subject is wonderful; without passion, a student’s time in graduate school will be incredibly hard. But passion isn’t the only requirement for conquering this monumental task. As a graduate student, you will have to complete tasks that seem unending, impossible or just plain boring. At times, your passion will falter. You will reach a point where you’re cursing your project or thesis out loud. As a fourth-year graduate student, I am painfully familiar with these realities.

Where to start?

  • Consult with the CSU Career Center on what jobs need advanced degrees
  • Talk to grad students and work in a graduate group if possible
  • Speak to a counselor about mental and emotional ramifications 

Career benefits are another motivating factor for attending graduate school. An advanced degree does usually lead to a pay increase, but so does experience.

According to the Undercover Reporter, employers will still look for experience in their job applicants, no matter their education level. Instead of paying for more school and increasing their student debt, the years students put into graduate school can be spent gaining valuable real-world experience and making money instead.

An advanced degree typically leads to a leadership position. It is important to understand that people in leadership positions, like professors or heads of research, do almost entirely managerial-type work. They aren’t in the laboratory actually doing science anymore.

The mental and emotional costs have to be considered as well. Being a graduate student is downright hard, and the consequences often go beyond work.

In March 2018, Nature reported a depression rate of nearly 40 percent. Relationships are difficult to maintain, not only because a graduate student’s time is highly restricted but also because choosing a school, and subsequently a job often requires major relocation. 

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If reading this was unsettling, don’t ignore that feeling. The decision to go to graduate school should not be taken lightly, so be as well-informed as possible by starting with the resources available here on campus.

Consult with the CSU Career Center on what jobs really need an advanced degree. Find graduate students in your area of study and talk to them about their experience; better yet, work in a graduate group. Visit the CSU Counseling Center and discuss potential mental and emotional pitfalls. The counselors and psychiatrists all went to graduate school too.

If the pros of graduate school still outweigh the cons after doing thorough research, your decision will have a far more solid foundation. If not, don’t be afraid of leaving the academic bubble. The world outside is a lot grander than you think.

CollegianColumnist Katie Lindberg can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online at @quantumCatnip