Graduate School Panel

Eighteen students attended a panel on graduate school last Tuesday, Nov. 26, in room SSPB 1208.

The three-person panel was put on by the Sociology Club. It featured Matt Huffman Ph.D.; Peter B Owens, a Ph.D. candidate; and Edelina Burciaga, a Ph.D. student. The panel discussed sociology and graduate school as a whole. The panel offered students a sneak peek into the world of graduate school.

One of the main themes discussed was: “what to do before graduate school.” This covered things done as an undergrad to help prepare for graduate school, taking time off and finding a program that is a good fit.

Burciaga participated in undergraduate research to prepare herself for graduate school. Another way she prepared for graduate school during her undergraduate education was writing an honors thesis.

Owens took five years off between his undergrad and his graduate school. Owens discussed the pros and cons of taking time off, and noted that taking time off “did make [applying to grad school] more of an uphill struggle.” The experience, however, gave Owens a greater understanding of himself.

The presentation described that before applying for graduate school, it is necessary to find a school that is a good fit. It is important to be at a school where you are supported instead of being at a top program where you are not supported. To find that program you need to do some research into possible advisors and visualize where you as a student would fit into the program.

Another major topic discussed were the key differences between being an undergrad and a grad student.

Huffman explained, “Students shift from consuming knowledge to producing it and becoming a scholar. As an undergrad you are told what to read and you have a schedule. There is a lot of guidance and hand holding… In graduate school you are doing research which is the production of knowledge.”

According to the panel, classes have a different role in graduate school. Classes do not matter as much but are instead there to give you ideas for your research.

Additionally, workload is different in graduate school. As an undergrad, there is a manageable amount of work to be done, but in graduate school one has at least 500 pages to read in a week. The key to managing all of the work, according to Huffman, is not trying to do all of it but instead to prioritize what needs to be done.

In graduate school it is required of you to manage your time day to day. Graduate school is much more self-driven than undergraduate work. Building the discipline to work every day and not just play video games is a distinct shift in maturity required in graduate school, conveyed the panel.“The first few years you take fundamental courses, like statistics, classical theory, and modern theory… In that first year you are immersed in what it means to be a sociologist. How sociologists approach research questions. In your second year you build on that more… you get to refine and hone what you are interested in and then train yourself to answer those questions. In the first few years there is a lot more guidance and then as you move on you take more responsibility or ownership for where your research agenda is going,” Burciaga explained. He also advised graduate students to integrate writing into their everyday lives.

There are many challenges in graduate school, but the biggest ones discussed are time management, being open to criticism, and the process of creating a dissertation.