Just the Bear Facts

To help you get your bearing in Grad School.

Category: Gradvice

Gradvice: Make the Move!

Growing up, Bruce Springsteen was always a favorite of many people in my hometown. Maybe it was because of his patriotic songs that continue to be anthems to generation after generation. Maybe it was because of his rock star persona that earned him one of the best nicknames ever. Maybe it was because of his local and musical ties to the City of Brotherly Love. I never quite understood the obsession until his song “My Hometown” came on the radio during my summer vacation road trip.

The last verse reads:

Last night me and Kate, we laid in bed,

Talking about getting out, packing up our bags and maybe heading south.

I’m thirty-five, we got a boy of our own now,

Last night I sat him up behind the wheel and said,

“Son take a good look around, this is your hometown.”

Then, it finally hit me. Perhaps the reason why so many people in the area loved The Boss was because of the fact that they could easily identify with the lyrics of hometowns and glory days. Perhaps, like Bruce and Kate, they missed the opportunity to leave and have been stuck in the same city ever since. Perhaps they are now always finding themselves wondering and “talking about getting out.”

Attending Graduate School gives you the opportunity to avoid wondering all of the “what ifs” and “could have beens.” The best advice that I could ever give is: take it!

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I don’t say this because I think that people should be wanderlust travelers or because I think that never leaving the same place shows a lack of ambition or because I think that I have a poor relationship with my hometown. In fact, I plan on returning to eastern Pennsylvania because it is home and nothing ever beats home. I say this because when I do go back, I know I won’t ever wonder if I belong somewhere else.

I didn’t apply to a school in central Texas by accident. I was always decent at geography and knew what I was getting myself into moving a two-day car ride away. The truth is that I’m using my time in Graduate School as a trial period – a trial period for discovering if I can live away from my entire family and lifelong friends and everything that I have known for the first twenty-two years of my life. I did it now because I want to know where to look for employment after I graduate. I want to know if I can look in Texas or further away on the West Coast or if I need to look closer to home. I want to know this before I accept a job that I’ll have to leave in a few months because I’m too lonely or scared and send my career careening backwards.

Graduate School is not only a time for challenging ourselves inside the classrooms and research labs, but it is also a time for learning what environments we enjoy. Our time in school, despite some of our best efforts, has an expiration date. Our job is to be as prepared as possible when that time inevitably comes. It doesn’t matter if we end up where we started or halfway across the world. If we took the time to learn in Graduate School where we can make it, then we’ll know that it won’t matter.

Written by: Matthew Doyen

Gradvice: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Gradvice is a series that discusses the difficult decisions that graduate school applicants must make. Hopefully, our thoughts and experiences will help guide you to the right course!

Human beings like to stay with what they know. I only get the tuna sandwich at Subway. My dad only buys Honda vehicles. My sister only watches romantic comedies. We are confident in these decisions because we know that they will be reliable and enjoyable. The same can be said about graduate school. Once you finally decide on a graduate program to pursue, it’s only natural that the first school you research is the one where you received your bachelor’s degree. After all, you have turned that once foreign place into a cozy home for the last four years. As the search continues, however, you may find that a program located halfway across the country seems like it is the perfect fit. But do you really want to leave everything that you have become familiar with at your undergraduate school? Or do you want to take a chance and experience a totally new place and culture?

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My friend, Sarah, earned her bachelor’s degree at Baylor and decided to stay in Waco to pursue her master’s. As we were walking past Fountain Mall, I asked Sarah to share what she thought the advantages and disadvantages of receiving her undergraduate and graduate degrees at the same university were. Personally, as a graduate student who moved to a completely new state to continue my education, I found that her experience was completely opposite to my own and that most of our differences center around one thing: relationships.

Sarah stressed the importance of continuing the relationships that she had started during her four years as an undergrad. During that time, we all had our favorite professors who found us abusing their office hours just to chat about life and to sink into their comfy leather chairs. Since deciding to stay at Baylor, Sarah still has the ability to do that every couple of weeks. She also continues to volunteer at the same places and to further develop current relationships with the same directors that may end up offering her a job in the future because of their strong past. Finally, she can still enjoy hanging out with the friends that she has made who have not yet graduated or who have decided to stay in Waco for grad school.

I can understand all of what she said and try to overcome the fact that I’m at a different school and don’t have those advantages as best as I can. For instance, I still remain in contact with my old professors through the occasional email. I still volunteer, but at new places and with new faces, which helps broaden my list of professional connections. I still spend many nights talking to my old friends and planning when they are going to come to central Texas, while leaving time to enjoy the new friendships that I have made at Baylor.  Everyone seems genuinely happy that I made the choice to move on to a different school, as it can give the impression of moving onward and upward rather than staying stagnant.

The decision to stay at the same school for both undergrad and grad school is perfectly understandable and works out fine for a good amount of students, including Sarah. She enjoys the safety net of her old friends while strengthening the relations that she has already started with professors and professionals in her field. While going to a different school does make those relationships harder to continue, it also shows which of them are most important to me and provides an opportunity to increase my list of contacts. These types of decisions are difficult to make when deciding where to go for graduate school. But, if you take the time now to figure them out, then you know your future graduate school won’t clash with what you were expected!

By Matthew Doyen

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