Training my brain for grad school
Today was my last first day of school. That’s weird. It was also the first day of my second degree. Also weird.
Going into this year, I knew it was going to be a big change of pace. I’m only taking nine credit hours, which is the grad school setup, I’ve been told. You spend a lot less time in class and a lot more on reading and research outside. Grad school brings an end to the type of classes that consumed my last year and a half of school: staff classes with late nights in the j-school and others with three credit hours for five to eight hours spent in class.
My assistantship job also contributes to the freedom of my schedule. Instead of teaching a class, I’m working with the Director of Planning and Communications on the relaunch of the journalism alumni magazine. It’s a big project, but, as the student editor, I got to set my own hours and determine the schedule. Not to mention, it’ll be beneficial and rewarding experience. I’m overseeing a magazine from start to finish — including the story ideas, layout and editing — and at the end of the semester I’ll have the result to show for it.
So I came into this year excited about a much more open schedule. Different kind of classes, different kind of job. No more clubs or reslife means free evenings for the first time in college, but there will be plenty of work to fill those evenings. Not much studying (exams are rare in grad school) but lots of scholarly articles, long-term projects and internet discussions. Being a self-starter, that works for me. (What also works for me is nothing on the calendar during finals week.)
But today I realized that the biggest change comes in the way I have to think: Everything has a research focus. After two semesters of coursework, I’ll do a research project or thesis as my final component, and my classes seem designed to lead to that. They are even more research-oriented than I expected, so I am jumping right into theories and studies, scholarly articles and literature reviews. A whole bunch of terms I haven’t used before were thrown at me today, and it was a bit of a shock. It’s a new approach to journalism, which is exciting; it’ll just take some getting used to.
I’m not too concerned because I know I have the initiative and motivation to keep up with the work independently, but also, yet another change is the primary academic drive. A professor herself told us today to chill about grades and call professors by their first names. A solid GPA is necessary for keeping our TA jobs and class standing, but the most important thing about grad school is the contacts, she said. So I’ll work hard in class, do my research outside and get to know my professors, and at the end of this year, hopefully those three ingredients will launch me closer to my dream job.