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(Some) Things to consider when considering a graduate program

Ok you’ve applied to many grad schools, gotten some offers (congrats!), what happens next? Often a PhD program will invite you to visit the campus, meet faculty and grad students, and see the town before you accept the offer. I went on four grad school visits in order to help me make the decision of which offer to accept. It’s an exciting time – the dynamics have switched. Instead of you begging them to let you in, now they are begging you to accept their offer!

The decision of which offer to accept is challenging, and there are many factors to consider. For me, the most important factors where the advisor I would work with, the presence of multiple people in the program I wanted to learn from, and the cost of living (especially important to me as I am too old to have a ton of roommates!). Those were the major factors, but there are lot more things to consider and questions to ask!

I recently came across this excellent tweet thread by Alexis Garretson of questions the she wished she had asked when visiting grad school or talking with grad students at a program.

The comments are also full of more great advice and things to consider. Worth a click if you’re searching for grad school programs.

And here’s another thread from Mia de los Reyes:

And another from Dra. Nicole Cabrera Salazar


SVRN at SVA NatCon: Day 1 recap!

And just like that our first day at SVA National Conference is wrapped up! Patty, Rebecca, and I flew in to Orlando yesterday and made it to our rooms at the Disney Coronado Springs Resort. The resort is lovely, with a lake in the middle and lots of bars and restaurants, but it’s a resort and it’s Disney so… it’s also lots of bucks. We hit the bar in the middle of the lake last night for dinner and drinks before turning in.

The first sessions today started at 1pm, so the morning was spent with registration, prepping for our talk tomorrow, and a bit of catching up on sleep! They passed out COVID tests are registration, and everyone is required to wear masked inside, which really helped put my mind at ease wrt COVID.

The day started with small group sessions. I’ll summarize here things I learned in sessions that I think might be useful for our interests!

Session 1: Mythbusters: Changing the Culture Surrounding Accessibility & Affordability at Highly Selective Institutions

A highly selective institution is one that admits <25% of its applicant pool. The presenters at this session were from Cornell University, Amherst College, and University of Chicago. The focus of the session was on veterans considering these for undergraduate studies, and assuming they were out of reach, too unaffordable, or that they weren’t good enough and shouldn’t even try to apply. The session was focused on busting those myths and convincing folks that they can be competitive and they should apply to some stretch goals in addition to “safety schools”. I think that’s good advice for grad school applications too!

They suggested some tips for overcoming mental and logistical barriers for vets applying to these types of institutions:

  • Go to the source: email admin folks and ask questions
  • Financial aid is very robust at these places, don’t let the sticker price scare you
  • Don’t be scared off by the touted statistics of first-year students and their awesome GPAs, your life and work experiences can make you more competitive even with lower GPAs.
  • Don’t send optional standardized test scores. If you send them and the admissions folks see them, they will be biased by them even if it’s more subconscious. If they’re optional, don’t even send them.
  • Don’t shy away from reaching for the “long shot” school!

Session 2: Keeping Grad School on the Horizon

This session was presented by R.J. Jenkins and Beth Morgan of Columbia Center for Veteran Transition and Integration. The focus of the session was to provide a big-picture overview of grad school and how to start thinking about if it’s right for you.

They suggest first doing some “pre-work”, asking:

  • What is your “why”: What do I want to contribute to the world, what is my vision for my life? Where do I want my career to go?
  • Are your grad school plans in conversation with your why: Is grad school the only way to get where I want to be? Is it the best way?
  • Have you had an honest conversation with yourself and your team (spouse, family, etc) about what is required: Is this something I really want to do? How long is it going to take? How am I going to finance it? Do I need to relocate?

Some tips for applying:

  • Who’s in your field? Talk with advisors about grad school, identify prerequisites and adjust schedule accordingly
  • A face in the crowd vs a potential college: Much academic mentorship occurs outside of the classroom, like research settings, office hours, etc. Invest time with mentors and let them get to know you. Work to maintain those connections, especially if there is a gap between UG and grad school.
  • Asking for letter of recommendation: start the conversation early, let mentors know as soon as you begin the application process. Ask mentors if they would like a gentle nudge before the due date. Don’t be afraid to ask for letters, this is a part of their job they’re not just doing you a favor (but be polite of course).
One of my notes pages from the session about financing and summary.

Opening reception

Following the first sessions was the opening reception. It started with a conversation between Dr. Abby Kinch of SVA National and R.J. Jenkins of Columbia Center for Veteran Transition and Integration about imposter phenomenon. Imposter phenomenon is the feeling that you don’t belong in a group because you aren’t as good/smart/accomplished as those around you, that you are an imposter who will be found out one day. It’s a very common feeling, most people will experience it in their lives at some point.

He had some very encouraging and useful things to say, I thought! To address imposter phenomenon, he suggested leaning into your community (family, friend groups, SVA chapter) and having frank and open conversations about what you’re feeling. Look for folks further down the path you are on, and who care about you and your career and can tell you what they see about your capabilities. Don’t ignore or stuff down that nagging feeling.

He also pointed out that imposter phenomenon is closely aligned with important and valuable leadership qualities – good listeners, responsive to feedback, eager to celebrate the team rather than themselves. A certain amount of discomfort is valuable because it shows you are challenging yourself and growing, so if you feel this a bit you’re probably doing something right not something wrong! But be aware that there may be real external factors contributing to your not feeling welcome, and if that’s the case, that’s not on you!

“When someone believes in you, let them!” Don’t discount it by telling yourself they’re just being nice or they don’t really believe it.

Finally, he suggested that if you’re wondering if or how your military experience will help with college, remember: the one thing the military taught you to do is to get really good at a bunch of things you weren’t already good at, and that skill is 1000% transferable!

The next speaker was author, entrepreneur, actor, screenwriter, director, and Navy SEAL Remi Adeleke on looking into your past to define a plan for your future. He has a book called Transformed which is an autobiography of his incredible life story. He also an accomplished actor, writer, and director with several current and upcoming films. You can read more about his story here.

Finally there was a pre-recorded address by President Biden and another by SVA President Jared Lyon.

It was a great first day, looking forward to tomorrow!