grad school: I’m (mostly) not afraid of you anymore

This is mostly for my mom, dad, and various close friends who are vaguely interested in my impending career path.

Some Realizations

A month and a half ago, I may or may not have panicked over grad school. And by “may or may not,” I mean there was a lot of crying, a bit of desperation, and a whole ton of soul-searching. On the other hand, I have had a month and a half to figure my shit out, and I’d like to share all the progress I’ve made.

I’ve learned a lot about what my end goals are, and consequently what I want from Grad School. For example, I would prefer to attend an applied school than a theoretical school – meaning, I dislike research. I want a Masters with which I can step out into the real world and say, “Look! I have a skill! And I’m good at it! Hire me!” I do not want to go into research for the rest of my life. I do not want to be a professor. I want to work for the government or a company – mostly because I want my work to have a result. A visible, physical result.

On the other hand, I am not inherently opposed to research. It is a necessary, vital part of work. And in fact, I have learned something quite interesting about myself: I like statistics. In a gooey, makes me sit on the edge of my seat kind of way. In reality, like I said, I like producing a visible, physical result. Thus, I believe I have found my specialization: Geographic Information System, or GIS. Essentially, I want to collect data (or take data that has been collected by someone else) to create maps. In particular, I want to create maps that answer questions and visually explain results.

There are a lot of reasons this focus is important to me, but what it boils down to is that I don’t want to research one particular system or animal or disease; instead, I want to research and collect all the data I can physically manage, put it in a map, and make it easier to find the results that we may or may not have been looking for in the first place. And then I want to make that data accessible to any researcher who needs it.

What I’m looking for in a School

So what do I need for a career in GIS? First, I need a broad understanding of Environmental Science as a whole; as such, I am looking at broader programs which are more technical based than research based. Second, and more importantly, I need a school with a moderately good GIS program. So, I’ve narrowed it down to the following schools, where the bold schools come closest to what I am looking at:

  • Louisiana State – Emphasis in Forestry Resources or Renewable Natural Resources
  • University of California at Berkeley – Emphasis in Forestry
  • University of California at Davis – Emphasis in Ecology or Conservation Biology (high in GIS)
  • University of Denver – Emphasis in Ecosystems or Geospatial Analysis (GIS)
  • University of Georgia – Emphasis in Forestry or Ecology
  • University of Washington – Emphasis in Forest Ecology or Wildlife Sciences; alternatively, Masters of Built Environments.

The next steps are as follows:

  1. This week, I will research 1-3 professors for each school. I will then email each professor to try to set up a phone conversation, which is both easier to schedule and manage, as well as more memorable and more useful.
  2. After talking to professors, I will re-evaluate how close each school comes to meeting my needs. Subsequently, I will see about arranging a trip to see these schools and meet some professors and graduate students in person. I hope to visit late October, but the possibility of this happening depends heavily on both time frame and financial situation.
  3. I will start talking to professors, employers, and whomever necessary about recommendation letters by the beginning of October.
  4. By the end of November, all my applications will be filled and sent off. And then I can cry and be stressed again – but only then!

So there you have it. I’ve figured out what I want to do, I’ve narrowed it down to some programs I think will work, and I have a plan about talking to professors, seeing if a visit is possible, and making this all happen. Boom. And if it doesn’t work this go round? Better luck next year.

But really. I want this to work. Now.


3 thoughts on “grad school: I’m (mostly) not afraid of you anymore

  1. Hey Cari,

    Excited to hear that you’re applying to grad school! Having been through the process, here are a couple of things you might want to consider when doing research on schools:

    1. Placement record. Professors will tell you “our graduates do very well on the job market, going into x, y and z” – take this with a pinch of salt, and ask to see some comprehensive stats. Ideally they’d have something like this:

    Given your overriding interest in finding a job with your degree, it’s vital to see just how much of each cohort does in fact end up working in GIS for government/business, and some programs are much better at providing that information than others.

    2. Funding. I’m sure you’ve already considered this, but even if you’re told “there’s lots of funding available”, find out (a) what percentage of students get it, (b) how much work for the department is required, (c) if it’s contingent on anything like GPA. If there’s not much funding, be concerned – the last thing anyone needs right now is more debt.

    3. Current grad students. Talk to plenty of people who are currently in the program, whether it’s done through one of the professors or independently. Even if you just send a couple of e-mails back and forth, it can really help to get a sense of how people are finding the program day to day. Again, the goal is to push past the self-serving fluff and find out precisely what you’re signing up for.

    I hope at least some of this is helpful – let me know if you want to chat about it any more. Hope life’s treating you well, and good luck with whatever you end up going for!


    • Thanks so much for the advice, Alex! I’m definitely looking at funding, but that’s a secondary consideration right now (immediately behind being accepted). I’ve been talking to grad students some, as well, which has been helpful! I’m going to start looking at placement, though — hadn’t thought about that!

      I hope you’re doing well! Miss you!

  2. Pingback: the monster which eats my self-motivation | move(me)nt

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