Three things to think about if you’re thinking about grad school

After you ask whether you should go to grad school, your grad school might have more questions for you (like this window at Harvard Kennedy School had for me).

After sharing some notes from my grad school visit, I’m back to discuss an important precursor to any such visit: The decision to apply to grad school. It seems that many Princeton students – myself included – did not come to campus with the expectation of pursuing an advanced degree. Yet somewhere between junior spring and senior fall, the question “Should I go to grad school?” starts lurking in everyone’s mind.

If you’re a rising senior, you may have already noticed this. If you’re a rising sophomore or junior, you can expect it to happen soon.

There’s no easy way to answer post-grad questions. However, if you’re considering grad school, there are three things you might want to keep in mind:

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Graduate Seminars: Why Not?

A winter view of the philosophy department in 1879 Hall.
A winter view of the philosophy department in 1879 Hall. 

This semester, I took my first graduate seminar in philosophy–Rationality & Irrationality with Professor Thomas Kelly. I went into the class without any knowledge of epistemology and some apprehension about my meager philosophical background compared to other students.

At the same time, I wanted the challenge and growth opportunities of an environment where students were fully invested in the material and subject matter covered. As a senior, I also wanted to see if I would want to pursue graduate work in philosophy. So, I swallowed my hesitations and enrolled.

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Graduate School Interviews: How My Thesis Stole The Show

My PCUR sweater is my favorite thing to wear when I'm running thesis participants in the lab!
My PCUR sweater is my favorite thing to wear when I’m running thesis participants in the lab!

As a second-semester senior, one thing seems to be taking over my life: my thesis. I eat thesis. I sleep thesis. I breathe thesis. The only other thing really going on in my life is interviewing for graduate school programs, and remarkably enough, the main thing that interviewers want to hear about is…yep, you guessed it: My thesis. Continue reading Graduate School Interviews: How My Thesis Stole The Show

The Search for Life Work: Netting Bats in Madagascar

“My friends, family, and classmates sometimes ask me why I do the things I do,” muses Ph.D. student Cara Brook in a recent NatGeo blog post. “Why do I spend so much time in remote corners of the world, tracking lethal viruses in enormous bats?”

In its broader form, this is a question all researchers can relate to: not just why she is so passionate, but how she found such passion for her particular research. How can we ever choose one question, of all the world’s exciting unknowns, for a thesis, or Ph.D., or career?

Cara and a Malagasy fruit bat pose in the field
Cara and a Malagasy fruit bat pose in the field.

Cara and I met up in a campus coffee shop – each of us, like good ecologists, bringing a reusable mug – and I asked Cara how she came to her research. Over the past four years, Cara has spent more time in Madagascar than in Princeton. In the field, she camps in the remote wilderness, traps fruit bats, and collects samples of their blood, hair, and (sometimes) teeth, to trace the paths of pathogens through populations. Cara has sacrificed much – warm showers, wi-fi, and uninterrupted sleep, to start – for her research. How did she find a question that drives her so deeply? Continue reading The Search for Life Work: Netting Bats in Madagascar

On (not) applying to grad school

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Was I really ready to commit the next 5 years of my life to another Ivory Tower?

As I’ve muddled my way through three years of college, the questions people have asked me about my studies have changed. It started with possibility and exploration – “what are you studying?” and “ooh, chemistry was my worst subject!” – but when I returned home this summer, the question “and what are you going to do next?” reared its ugly head.

Grad school, followed by academic research, had always been my default answer. It’s what my dad did with his psychology degree, it’s very close to what my mom did with her English degree (until she turned off on a veering path through secondary education, administration, web development, and consulting). Perhaps more importantly, it’s the path most visible to students actually in university, surrounded as we are with, well, grad students and academics. Especially at Princeton (where research in even the “applied” sciences tends towards the theoretical), there’s a dearth of visibility of other paths.

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