The final semesters of an undergraduate education are an exciting time for many students as they are confronted with how to apply their education. Volunteering, interning, and jobs are usually the first things that come to mind for soon-to-be graduates, but members of FIU’s GLADES Club were curious about what it takes to pursue a graduate degree. This past Tuesday GLADES undergraduates organized a panel of current graduate
students and professors to discuss the processes of searching for and applying to graduate ecology programs. The panel included PhD students Belén Fadrique, Jeremy May, and Timothy Perez (me), while professors were represented by Drs John Kominoski, Ken Feeley, and Lidia Kos. Below are some of the important items we discussed
that many people pursuing graduate school are unaware of:
- Don’t pay for Grad School! Unlike undergraduate degrees you should not pay for graduate school. In most graduate programs, students are actually paid a modest salary – typically through scholarships, teaching assistantships, and research assistantships. However, tuition is typical for professional degrees like MDs, DDSs, etc., but not PhDs.
- You DO NOT need a master’s degree to pursue a PhD. In fact, masters programs are becoming increasingly harder to find and fund. Anyways, sometimes research experience is as valuable as a master’s degree…
- Get research experience! Good grades and great GRE scores are always helpful, but there is no substitute for doing actual science. Grad school is a lot of research, so get practice now! This will help you decide if you actually want to go to grad school too. You will also likely get practice writing and presenting research, which are valuable skills for graduate school. Shameless plug: Feeley lab now looking for undergraduate research assistants! Contact us for details!
- Apply to the Advisor and the Program – not necessarily the school. When you apply to a graduate program, at least in ecology, you are really applying to work with the advisor. In other words, make sure you are familiar with and interested in a potential advisor’s research. It is just as important that you get along with your potential advisor – send your potential advisor emails, Skype, and make a visit to their lab if you can to see if it is a good fit. Of course, a supportive and collaborative department or program is also an important consideration.
- Network. Like most professions, academia has its fair share of networking. By being interested in others’ research, talking to co-workers, forming collaborations – basically being a curious and gregarious person – you will increase gain a leg-up on competition via word-of-mouth opportunities.
Lastly, I offer my own two cents. I recommend recent graduates to thoroughly explore their interests before applying to grad school. Graduate school can be a lot fun, but it is also a lot of work, requires lots of dedication, and takes multiple years to complete. Before you decide to apply to a graduate program ask yourself if is really what you want. If you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else except graduate school, then get those applications ready!