Road to Graduate School



By Jun Hyup Og, 2018-2019 Student Academic Advising Leader: 

Just when you thought that surviving college wasn’t easy enough, you are hit with the fact that you are no longer an incoming freshman and is now an adult who has job interviews to prepare for and job applications to fill out. But, is industry the right path for you?

I know that waking up and forcing yourself to go to that class lecture, that you may or may not pay attention to, seem so tedious and ineffective, but are you really miserable? Despite how much we all complain and be disappointed by our failures or grades, somewhere deep in the bottom of our hearts, we all enjoy this painful process of learning because it makes us become smarter and stronger. Undergraduate has taught us to never give up and remember our failures so that we can work harder and find a way to become successful. I am sure that working in an industry is the same too – where your coworkers communicate and support you with your projects, but in the end, work is a competitive environment where everyone tries to climb to the top. However, school and classroom is different – it is a place where students come together and join a group in which everyone truly stick with one another and push each other through that tough homework and exams.

Therefore, students should consider graduate school after their bachelor’s degree. The course work for the graduate school will definitely be tougher and stressful, but just as there were people supporting you in the undergraduate days, there will be far more resources and guides who can support you during the times of trouble. Also, as a graduate student, you will be in a research lab, surrounded by people with similar interest and goals.

Although making money seem very convincing, life is not about how much money someone makes in a year, but rather how happy they are. I believe that pursuing a higher education can lead to this happiness as not only will you be further knowledgeable in the subject you are interested in, but also you will be able to find companions who also share your love and interests.

If this essay has convinced you or make you consider graduate school, then start considering applying for a research lab. Becoming a graduate student means that you will be spending the four to six years working in a lab, so it is important to start finding out which field of research that you want to work for. Thus, start slow and go through different professors and read about their research topic. At first you will not be able to completely understand what the team is working on, but the important thing is whether you are interested in their field. For instance, I am working for Dr. Catherine J. Murphy who specializes in nanoparticles in the chemistry department, and as a chemical engineer, I had no knowledge of nanoparticles but except I was interested in it. Thus, I took the time to read her research website and then briefly messaged her for a meeting to show my interest in working for her lab.

At first, I was discouraged by her lack of response and my previous failures of securing a position in a research lab, but professors are very busy and sometimes not every lab has an open spot, so it is important to send a follow up message to show your interest. After my second email, I was able to set up a 30-minute meeting with Dr. Murphy and I immediately edited my resume and browed research website and papers that she had published.

Near the end of our conversation, I had told her that I do not have any experience in nanoparticles but am sincerely interested in learning about it, and she understood my curiosity for her lab and was hired! Now I have been working for her for a year and have knowledge that I would have never obtained through classes only. In fact, she has agreed to write a recommendation letter when I apply to graduate school!

Setting up a personal relationship with your professors is important as graduate school requires you to send three recommendation letters, so while taking your courses, start visiting your professors at their office hours. Even if you are not the top student in the course, as long as you work hard and is acknowledged for your efforts, the professor would be able to write an essay that truly describes your personality.