Friday, September 21, 2012

All about grad school

Let's discuss grad school for a bit. I've had this thing about not really wanting to talk about it because somehow it feels kind of like work to me, like it's an off-limits topic, but there's not actually a reason feel that way, is there? It's not like my professor is going to find my blog and start marking down my grades because I shared too much information. Plus, most of what I have to say about school is positive.

My program is an MS in health communication, done part time and designed for working professionals. You have to complete 10 classes to receive the degree, and you take them one at a time. Each one is a 14-week curriculum compressed into seven weeks, so they're pretty intense. I'm in my fifth class now, so nearly halfway there. Some of the classes have exams while others have final projects. I don't really have a preference between the two--I think I get more out of the projects than the exams, at least for the communication-heavy courses, but the exams can be more straightforward and less time-consuming, which is a relief, and they leave less room for subjective grading, which is nice.

My current class is media relations, which has a final project: mine is designing a media relations plan for a fictitious pertussis vaccine clinic (can you tell I picked the topic myself? My last final project was for my intro to health communication class, where I designed a campaign to improve HPV vaccination rates among African American girls. I'm on a mission to see if I can make every final project of this program about vaccines, apparently).

The best class I've had so far was epidemiology. Good lord it was so interesting. I LOVED it. And I actually found it to be the least time-consuming of all my classes, because the information was so straightforward and clearly presented, and we had weekly open-book quizzes so you really had to learn the material each week and didn't end up cramming for the exams at the last second and trying to learn a month's worth of difficult material in two days. And I could just FEEL myself learning. I'd look at the weekly quiz before I started plowing through that week's materials and readings and think OMG, it's impossible. Then once I was done with the readings I'd go back to the quiz and realize that it was totally doable. It's so cool to be able to SEE that you have learned something interesting and important, and even cooler when the learning STICKS.

(Plus, epidemiology is such a useful skill for just interpreting the news, and also the Internet, because you can look into the "research says" or "I found a study that proves" claims and quickly see if there were major flaws with the research or the way it's being interpreted, which is... usually, unfortunately.)

The more communication-heavy classes are all about the assignments. The best classes have assignments that ask us to take the concepts we've been studying and apply them to the real world. So, the media relations class I'm in right now asks us to do some interesting things, like pitch stories to different media outlets, and write blog posts about important health topics, and draft press releases. Other classes have asked us to develop an organizational policy about video news releases and analyze the effectiveness of health-related websites (this one, to be specific, which was a really fun exercise). The worst assignments are the ones that just ask for regurgitated facts rather than any analysis or real-world application. You know, in grad school you'd think you'd be beyond writing third-grade book report-style papers, but I had one class that asked us to do exactly that, which was disappointing. But hey, one mediocre class compared to four great ones is not a bad ratio, and at least as good as what I experienced in undergrad.

So far, overall, it's been pretty great. I've learned a lot and it hasn't totally killed my free time or stressed me out, for the most part. It's really nice taking only classes that are relevant to my work and actually in line with my personal and professional interests. My classmates are fantastic. And, I've discovered that I am no longer as bad about procrastinating as I was in college, so that's been a nice (and relaxing!) surprise.

But it's still SCHOOL. Why is it that even when it's interesting and meaningful and you're glad you're doing it, you still don't really WANT to be doing it? It's all about trying to get it done so you don't have to think about it anymore. I'm already almost halfway through (thank goodness) but I am still really looking forward to the part where I'll be TOTALLY through and be able to call my weekends and evenings my own again. The thing I always hated most about school was the part where even if you weren't ACTUALLY working, you had a little niggling feeling in the back of your mind like you SHOULD be working, and that took away from your ability to enjoy the rest of your life.

I know that every grad student feels this way (and most other students too), but it's annoying. Grad school is great! It's interesting and compelling and way better than I was expecting it to be and I'm so glad I'm doing it. And yet I want it to be over! I AM A MESS.

But hey, at least I'm an extremely educated mess. Or getting there, anyway.


  1. Since I started working at a university again I've been looking at the masters programs because, seriously, I should - it's free. But UGH. I have no interest.

    I could do the Master's in Nonprofit Administration but i've be a nonprofit administrator for 15 years and the courses seem totally redundant as I've done almost all those things in my professional career. So then theres the MBA, which I have zero interest in but has become the new bachelors and that kind of pisses me off. But my school has a well-recogniozed program in the region so I feel that might be a better investment of my time. But UGH classes in Business Statistics and Ethical Decision Making sound so dull.

    Needless to say, the time factor with 2 kids and a full time job is something too. But I still think I should do it. Just not yet sure what path to take.

  2. I like the IDEA of grad school, but I know, at this point in my life anyway, it would kill me. And my family. And all it would really amount to is another loan to pay off! I kind of think that if grad school happens for me, it'll be when I'm 40 or 50 and then I'll just have to be one of those Cool Older Ladies all the whippersnappers can't figure out. I am SO IMPRESSED with what you're able to pull off. Halfway done already! Amazing. Good for you!

  3. I have lots of thoughts about grad school, but I'll just pick one thread. I went straight into it after undergrad, which I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it's easier - I was already in the zone with studying etc., I didn't have to make any hard choices about leaving a job or working while completing the program, and I didn't have a family to worry about balancing my time. BUT. I was (am?) a KID. I wasn't sure about what I chose, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it, and I think that made the coursework and research a LOT harder. I had one foot out the door the entire way through my program (PhD in toxicology).

    Now, with some distance, I think that the best grad students (and some of the very best scientists, at least) are the ones who wait a bit. They are so often more articulate, more passionate, and more capable. So hooray for you!

    Also, I wish all humans (scientists and otherwise) had to take a very basic epidemiology course, so that we could all stop losing sleep about poorly interpreted science.

  4. One of the best bits of advice I've received on graduate school was to only go if someone else paid for it. I got my MBA immediately after my BA in English Lit because I scored an awesome Graduate Assistantship that covered my tuition and fees AND gave me a stipend. Yes, I had zero experience, and that was a bit of an issue when I graduated and had to find a real job, but I still defend that it was a savy business decision. Now, three years later, I would love to go back to school again but I have no clue what would benefit me in my career and the shakiness of a contracted position makes me afraid to start something I couldn't finish. I refuse to pay out of pocket for higher education.

  5. That niggling feeling is why I haven't kept taking classes all the time. I LOVE college. My masters classes were great. But even just the relentlessness of it being every single week got to me.