LBJ School of Public Affairs Graduate Student Laura Spagnolo
Being a mentor for an undergraduate student in the IE Pre-Grad Internship was a really enriching experience. At first, I didn't realize the impact that this internship could have on students but after meeting once or twice with Nickalas I knew that I could be a valuable resource to him just through sharing my experiences here at UT with him and also telling him about my decision to go to graduate school a few years before.
I think my intern gained several things from this internship but above all he gained a better picture of what graduate school is, about the real life of a graduate student like me. He learned the main differences between being an undergraduate and a graduate student - the different kinds of responsibilities that exist as well as the different challenges that, as a student, you will face in these different stages. He learned that in both you need to do well, but that while you are doing your undergraduate work you follow a specific path, while as a graduate student you have to make your own path. You have to do your own research, write your own papers, work with a professor in the field, attend conferences, make sure to write something for publication, etc.
Thanks to the IE Pre-Graduate School internship I was able to invite Nickalas to attend one of the most important conferences for students and professors in the area of Political Science/International Relations, the Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA). I was presenting one paper, so he had the opportunity to observe what I have to do as a graduate student outside of school, one of the ways that graduate students have to present their work and receive valuable feedback from other students and scholars in their field.
At the conference I was also able to observe his interactions with other students and professors in the field of Political Science, as it seems to be the field in which he has chosen to pursue his graduate studies. Last but not least, he was impressed because there he realized that as an undergraduate student he too could have presented his work.
One thing he seems to have gained from this experience is that, even here at UT, there a lot of things that undergraduates can be doing to get ready to go to graduate school. I hope he will pursue these opportunities during the Fall before he graduates.
Finally, I believe that the most important gain for Nickalas (a first-generation student) after doing his internship was to realize that graduate school is reachable and it depends strongly on his level of commitment and self-discipline.