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Advice From Alumni: Part 2

April 12, 2013

Previously we shared advice from some of our alumni members for students who are planning to enter the workforce or go to graduate school soon. As we all know, life after college can be a very difficult transition, so hopefully some of this advice will give a little guidance.

This week, we have reached out to more professionals and graduate students, who work and study in a variety of fields and industries, for more advice.

Part 2:

For those entering the workforce, quickly add value by volunteering to participate in projects that help move the company forward.  Emerge as a leader by displaying your ability to plan, organize, and implement projects that are highly visible.  Be tactful in your interpersonal relations.  Show that you are a team player.  Respect and acknowledge the contributions of others.

For those going to graduate school, being a team player is essential in this environment as well.  Practice that attribute heavily while collaborating on group-oriented projects with classmates.   Always respect and acknowledge the contribution of others.

–Debra Hall
Georgia Southern University, MBA 2010

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Before entering a PhD program, ask yourself, “What’s my motivation?”  It’s really important to establish that before you take on the time consuming, painstaking, mind boggling task of pursuing a terminal degree.  When you answer that question, reflect upon whether or not that motivation will be enough to get you through the low points that are guaranteed to happen during the course of your studies.  If you believe your motivating factor is grounded enough to help you forge ahead, great!  However, if it’s pretty “wishy washy”, take my advice and table the matter until your conviction is stronger.  It will save you a lot of time, energy, and money.  There are a few things you can count on seeing when you look up the road that will take you to a doctorate.  Twists and turns, hills and valleys, bumps and bruises are between where you stand and where you want to be, BUT if you really know why you are doing it, when you get to those rough times, you’ll be able to press forward.

–Rayetta M. Johnson
University of Texas at Arlington, PhD Candidate K-16 Educational Leadership

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I would tell undergraduate students that are looking towards their future that there is not a “right” way of getting to where you want to be in life. That path might change when new knowledge is acquired along the way. Whether you decide to pursue employment or an advanced degree, the journey is just that… a journey. It is a process and no one’s process in their career development is exactly the same. The neat thing about that is that it is okay that your path does not look like someone else’s; because it is yours. You are unique. I say this because I understand that there is going to be a lot of external pressure that will push and pull you in certain directions, but the truth is that you are the only one that will have to live with your decision in the end. So make it yours and be true to yourself and what your dreams are as an individual. Trust those feelings even when the world says that they may not be possible. You are the agent of change in your life!

–Sarah Bickelhaupt, M.S.
Graduate Assistant, Dept. of Human Development & Family Studies
Iowa State University

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Attending graduate school while working and being a single mother all at once was certainly not easy, but I learned a few simple “tricks” along the way that proved to be extremely helpful. If you are planning on attending graduate school, here are some tips you may find useful:

1. Be realistic about the number of units you can handle at once, especially if planning on working while attending graduate school. Two graduate-level classes were more than enough for me and most of the graduate colleagues I met along the way.
2. Plan a realistic and detailed schedule at the beginning of each semester or quarter and try to stick to it as closely as possible. Aside from classes and study time, you may want to even include nap time, break time, lunch time, among others in your schedule. Printing the schedule and carrying it along with you may help you stay on track.
3. Form a study group with students you perceive as competent and with whom you feel comfortable. This can be helpful in many ways, but especially in that the support system you may create when you form study groups might greatly increase your chances of staying motivated, confident, and focused, which in turn may increase your chances of succeeding.
4. Try to study in different settings. Sometimes studying at home, for example, might not work if you get easily distracted by family members, phone calls, etc. You might also get tired of studying in the same environment, so consider a library, a coffee shop, a park, or any other place you feel will allow you to be focused and motivated to study.
5. Develop effective study skills! If you don’t know where to start, talk to classmates, instructors, and tutors and find out what strategies they use to learn the material and be successful in classes. If, for example, you need to create outlines of the readings you do so that you don’t have to reread all the material before an exam, do so. You can do this while reading and it will save you a lot of time later on. In addition, summarizing the material you read may also help you better process and retain information. Sticky notes, highlighters, study guides, among others, are also helpful tools.
6. Be proactive and resourceful. Use the resources offered by the school you are attending to your advantage. Tutoring, for example, can be extremely helpful in that you might be exposed to the material through a different angle, and this might help you understand a topic you had a hard time understanding in class. In addition, make appointments to see your instructors during their office hours whenever you need assistance; you might find that your instructors are not “that scary” and they may actually help you understand the material better when giving you individualized attention.
7. Start building your professional background in the field you are entering. Become a member of professional organizations in your field, participate in conferences, and present the work you create while in school, if applicable. This can make a huge difference when you are fresh out of school and competing with others for the position you desire.
8. Finally, save some time on your schedule for you to relax and do things you enjoy. This will help you keep your sanity…and ability to focus when you have to!

Although these “tricks” may seem simple, they can definitely go a long way in graduate school. I firmly believe that one of the greatest misconceptions about successful people is that “they were born to shine” or, in other words, “succeeded without effort.” Through my personal, academic, and professional experiences, I have learned that effort, self motivation, pro-activeness and resourcefulness play a huge role in the lives of those who achieve success at one level or another, so I hope you find some of the strategies above to be great tools in your academic endeavors.

–Patricia do Carmo
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, Master of Arts in English in 2011
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I would suggest that undergraduate students who are in the midst of graduation provide themselves with short and long term goals to face the hardships in the current career market. Discussing their goals with personnel who work in their field of studies can assist them in making decisions when seeking a position. Having a few back up plans in the case that specific goals are not achievable is a necessary component to their planning. For example, if the prospective candidate is given an offer and prepares themselves for this offer in terms of living arrangements and financial accommodations, and the offer is soon expired due to sudden budget cuts, the candidate needs to adapt to this new situation and have new plan to fall into.

Students who find themselves in broad based educational studies such as Biology, Chemistry, Philosophy, and others need to be exploring the chances that they will succeed in this position post graduation. Most market participants find themselves in a bind even with higher level degrees in those fields, such as doctorate. The advice I propose to this is to discuss career options with a career center in the educational institution or even do research on their own. Adaptation to this market is essential to succeeding. More importantly, specializing in fields of studies such as those listed above can set a candidate apart from the rest when sending applications for consideration.

I would also suggest to explore options in various cultural based experiences. The government offers programs such as the Peace Corps that can enhance resume appearance. This program will not only offer personal challenges, but assist the less fortunate around the world in becoming independent. This can promote a level of understanding about oneself that would not have occurred if this was never experienced. Other public service programs are available to explore if Peace Corps is not considered an optimal choice.

Graduate school is an excellent option to let the candidate stand out from the rest. Having a graduate degree, I do not present bias against the ones who have elected not to attend. Graduate degrees should be specialized in nature and put a candidate in an excellent position for career exploration once the curriculum is completed.

–Andrew J. Vernon, M.Ed.
Alumni, University of Maine 2010
Presidential Appointment, U.S. Selective Service System Board
Current Employee, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Stay tuned to the blog for more advice coming soon.

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