Myths of Grad School

Do you have questions about grad school? Check out what a few UW-Madison alumni said about their experience.

By Nathan Vogel
  1. Where did you receive your undergraduate degree and where were/are you enrolled in grad school? Rebekah – UW-Madison Graduate, UW-Madison

Alanna – UW-Madison Graduate, University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Bill – B.S. from UW-Madison, M.S. from UW-Madison, incomplete Ph.D. from Penn State University

Will – B.S from National University of Colombia, MSc. Mechanical Engineering from UW-Madison

  1. What would be one question regarding post-undergraduate schooling that, had you asked it, would have made your life much easier?

Rebekah – Knowing whether health insurance is part of your graduate status (and what it will cost) is important. The amount of financial debt you have to take on will also be very important in the years after graduation.

Alanna – I can’t think of any questions I wish I had asked. My advice would be for people who move away from Madison for grad school, find out where the Wisconsin Alumni Association watches Badger games. You’d be surprised how many friends you can make wearing a Bucky shirt!

Bill – Ask as many questions as you can about how you will finance your graduate education and living expenses. Some programs offer assistantships or fellowships while others do not, and sometimes, even with some funding, large amounts of student loans may still be needed to complete a graduate degree.

Will – If this is about encouraging people to go to graduate school: “Do you want to buy some time before you have to get a ‘real person’ job that has a fixed schedule, limited vacation time and a dress code?” Something that might keep people from going to graduate school would be: “Do you really want to be in school for another four to five years?”

  1. Who was the one person that helped you the most with your post-undergraduate schooling?

Rebekah – Academically, hands-down my graduate advisor. I was actually at the point of maybe not working for a graduate degree because I wasn’t finding an advisor/project that clicked. I had a class with him, and he approached me with a project that was interesting. Having an advisor that you communicate well with can make a HUGE difference in your graduate experience.

Alanna – My older sister helped me the most because she had just graduated from grad school … Also, I was fortunate to have a supportive group of classmates who were also applying to grad school.

Bill – The knowledge gained from other graduate students was invaluable. Their advice was especially helpful for troubleshooting questions with research, interactions with advisors and navigating the administrative mazes of graduate school.

Will – My advisor definitely motivated me to continue in the program. Support from family is also important when you have a busy schedule, a lot of responsibilities and a tight budget.

  1. Was grad school what you expected and why?

Rebekah – Yes and no. I don’t think anyone has the exact experience they were expecting, but overall the process was what I had pictured. I was working with plants and was frequently reminded how complicated it can be to try to do research on living systems and get meaningful data. Welcome to science!

Alanna – Yes, grad school is what I expected it to be. In graduate school we delve into topics in much greater detail, and, unlike during undergrad, we have the opportunity for hands-on experiences with patients. Grad school emphasizes evidence-based practice and learning how to apply our “textbook knowledge” to clinical situations.

Bill – I think almost everyone comes out of grad school with a different perspective than when they started. The journey is not easy, but there are many fulfilling career opportunities that use a graduate degree…

Will – To a certain extent. It has definitely been challenging, but I did not expect to be able to participate in consulting cases or act as a mentor in my field prior to graduation. Also, I learned a lot about leadership and to appreciate the advantages of having a flexible schedule.

Finances, getting to know people and the support of those around you seem to be at the top of the list of things that you need to know about going to grad school. Grad school is going to test your tenacity with hours in the lab or class, and all while your life will just keep getting busier and busier. Thank you to those who participated, and hopefully the magazine was able to provide some useful information to those who are currently enrolled or who are prospective graduate students.