This blog roundtable is part of a series about graduate school – why do it, what is it like, and what to do afterwards. I encourage you to give your own opinions in the comments section, and if you disagree with a point made by the panel, voice your opinion! This is something a lot of my readers can relate to, so I’m hoping to hear from all of you. Note that these are the opinions of those involved, and do not reflect our institutions or departments in any way. For a full list of the questions, read the first post.

Sheer geekiness is actually a really good reason to pursue graduate school

“Why go did you go to graduate school?”

A question that your family and friends will ask you, and eventually you’ll be asking yourself. Why invest another 2+ years of your life in school – including postdocs this could be almost another decade before you get out into the “real world.” I google’d “Why go to graduate school” and the first few links had some common themes that emerged: what are your career goals, do you have the grades to succeed, are you motivated, among others. Some of the links were positive: Exhibit A, and Exhibit B. Some were more negative, ranging from the simple, the pragmatic, and the funny-because-it’s-true.

So lets hear from the panel!

Travis Saunders (twitter, website):

I wasn’t that interested in the jobs that were available with an MSc in Kinesiology, while the jobs that you could do with an PhD seemed much more interesting.  I enjoyed research and teaching, so it seemed like the natural choice.

Morgan Craig-Broadwith (twitter, website):

Oh man … this is the most obvious question to ask, but the most difficult to answer (in my opinion). For a multitude of reasons I guess. Primarily because I love learning and wanted to increase my knowledge in the area of exercise physiology. I strongly believed that marrying the material from my undergraduate degree (psychology) and my Masters would provide a bounty of careers opportunities. Has it? I think so, just waiting on the million dollar job offer as I write.

Tim Brown (twitter, websiteLinkedIn, Material Physics Group Website):

My exact reasoning is a little hazy, as it was long time ago when I decided to apply for graduate schools. I think it may have been a combination of: I didn’t know what I could do with my undergraduate degree in Physics, and wanting to learn more.

Priorities shift as you progress through graduate school

Megan Carter (twitter, website):

I decided on graduate school because in undergrad I wasn’t really set on becoming a dietitian (my degree was basically a professional dietetics program). I was really interested in epidemiology and research but there was nothing to take related to that at the undergrad level.  I did an undergrad epi-related thesis in fourth year so that I would be better positioned to get into a master’s epi program.

EpiGrad (twitter, website):

When I was in undergrad, I had the feeling I wanted to go to graduate school, or at least have that option open to me if I wanted it. I honestly wasn’t sure in what – there was a distinct possibility that rather than ending up in Epidemiology, I might have ended up going down the humanities path, building forts in the library out of hundred year old books. I was fortunate to have an advisor as an undergrad who encouraged me to do research as an undergrad in some form, and even luckier to find two of the most important mentors in my career. They introduced me to research, and I was hooked.

I knew I could continue on doing their research, implementing their ideas (and hopefully implementing them well) and working on an occasional side project of my own, but I really wanted to ask my own questions. So I started applying to graduate programs, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Penny Deck (twitter, website):

After a year off after finishing my undergrad, I found myself missing the academic environment. I like learning and wanted to keep learning, and my job at the time didn’t offer me that opportunity. I applied to one grad school but was offered admission only if I redid a couple upper division courses. Perplexed as these were courses I’d done well in, I decided to switch gears, and delved into the more molecular and cellular aspects of physiology than my PhysEd background had prepared me for – if I needed to upgrade my courses, why not learn something new rather than repeat what I’d already done? I was accepted into the second graduate program I applied to, but didn’t really know what I was getting into  – but it did provide the intellectual stimulation and the opportunity for learning that I’d been looking for.

Atif (me!) (twitter):

For me it comes down to independence. I wanted to run my own research program and be able to pursue the research questions that interest me, and an undergraduate degree will not give me that option. I also like being on “the forefront of research.” Until Starfleet becomes a reality, research is the closest we can be to boldly going where no one has gone before.

So there you have it. Here’s why our seven panelists pursued graduate school. Why don’t you tell us why you went to graduate school in the comments section?

Up next: What are the things that are important when picking your adviser/PI? What about your committee?

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