The decision on whether or not to go to graduate school is obviously filled with apprehension and uncertainty, especially when weighing the cost and grim job market. For me, at least, it was a decision that really capitalized on an inner struggle. For those lucky enough to get into a funded PhD program, the decision might not be so hard. But for those of us who did not, and instead had to pay for a Master’s degree prior to thinking about continuing on to pursue a PhD, the struggle was very real. I finally did choose to attend a Master’s program, even though I was worried about what I would do upon its completion, as well as the cost to attend.
The struggle did not end with the decision of whether or not to go to graduate school. Once I got there, the self-doubt that arose amid my seemingly brilliant peers was overwhelming. I say seemingly brilliant because although they were, at times they certainly fluffed themselves up to appear more brilliant than they actually are, which is not atypical in academia. Even still, the caliber of students around me was more than intimidating. While this feeling of not-being-good-enough-to-be-there got better as my program progressed, and I started to find classes that I really enjoyed and felt more comfortable in, the expectation to be brilliant remained present. This kind of pressure is obviously not for everyone, and I’m not sure it’s for me. But I tried to cast it aside and focus on the interesting material of my classes.
In the end, despite the struggle of deciding on whether or not to go to graduate school, as well as the continued struggle throughout graduate school, it was definitely worth it. The exceptional, sometimes world-famous, professors you get to study with is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. What you learn from your peers, even if they are intimidating and smarter than you, will stick with you and make you strive to better yourself. The friends you make, yes I said friends, who will not only serve as a support system as you’re struggling with your thesis and term papers, but also as fun distractions from the unrealistic amount of work that is expected of you, will last you far beyond the span of your program. This was something I was not expecting to come away from grad school with at all. I thought people in grad school, especially the one I went to, were really serious, studied all the time, and didn’t have any friends. But the friends I made in my program are some of the best friends I’ve ever made, and perhaps it is because of the intense, difficult nature of grad school that we became so close.
So here’s what I’ve learned from graduate school – you might not know exactly what you’re doing there, and you might not always enjoy it because it really is difficult, but it is important to try to soak in all you can because the vigorous intellectual stimulation and plethora of opportunities to feed your brain is something you will never be surrounded by again, unless you continue on for a PhD.