What You'll Really Get out of Grad School
When the thought first crossed my mind, I was living in New York working as an editorial assistant for a food website, dreaming about other things—about writing about film and television and maybe lecturing about the French New Wave one day, catching screenings of independent films whenever I could. The pull of heading back to the library stacks is not unique to me; it’s more seductive than ever in today’s competitive employment landscape.
If you’re seeking to get a leg up against your peers, or just hoping to learn more about a subject, an advanced degree could be just the ticket. Whatever your reasons, investing in the experience of graduate school is a decision worth thinking long and hard about. Aside from the particulars of your specific degree, there are some things you can absolutely expect should you decide to go back to school. Read on!
I went back to school for a master’s in cinema and media studies. I wouldn’t say I’m now an expert on the topic (it’s a huge field!), but I certainly have a very specific and quite deep well of knowledge that most people don’t. While undergrad is about learning something about many things, graduate school is about diving deep into a topic. Most graduate programs require you to write thesis papers, which will require you to focus on a topic of your choosing. If nothing else, spending months on end working on this will equip you with some impressive cocktail hour conversation; if talk turns to film and TV history, I’ll definitely have some things to say.
I didn’t major in film in undergrad like a lot of my peers did, so a lot of my time in grad school was spent soaking up new information like a sponge. My Netflix queue was constantly growing. Though it can be intimidating at first, one of the most incredible things about grad school is how insanely informed everyone around you is. Get over your ego and embarrassment for not knowing something: Your blind spot might be someone else’s expertise. Be humble and listen, and you’ll reap the rewards.
Access to knowledgeable individuals and luminaries in your field of interest is one of the most incredible things grad school will give you. Apply for research fellowships, make appointments to visit them during office hours, take their classes, and relish in the fact that as a graduate student, they will regard you as something of a peer, rather than a silly college coed.
Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I am constantly impressed and inspired by the projects and idle musings of the people I went to school with. Do grad school right and you’ll build yourself a cohort of brilliant potential collaborators and teammates to tap into post-degree. Graduate school, though competitive at times, is ultimately a place for people to further pursue their passions. The people you want to surround yourself with will be thrilled to share their interests and encourage and support yours.
Want to research a particular topic at one of the most prestigious libraries in the country? Looking to unearth a rare bit of 35mm film footage from a lost archive? Or maybe you’re interested in interviewing one of the most successful thinkers in your field of study? Being a graduate student places you in a tier of unparalleled access. The absolute best advice here is to let your imagination run free and simply ask. More often than not, whatever you’ve been dreaming up is possible, and the systems are in place to make it a reality.
Curiosity is not only helpful in grad school, but an asset. It is what will lead you to new and uncharted research opportunities, and questions worth asking. If you’ve ever found yourself wanting to know more about something but been unsure of your own voice or ability, grad school will give you the courage to go for it—no holds barred.
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Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student's Guide to Earning an M.A. or a Ph.D. by Robert Peters ($12)