Psychology Junior Rachel Roos
Graduate study is sometimes glamorized as the ultimate learning experience culminating in the earning of the honorable distinction of PhD. While at times this may be the case, an investigative inquiry into the experience often reveals it to be far less glamorous than previously thought. The connotation of this discovery, however, is not as negative as it may appear. The hard work and sleepless nights of a graduate student are all too often a reality. However, they are also the experiences that make the PhD all that more difficult to earn, and therefore all that more satisfying once the diploma is received. As a mentee in the Intellectual Entrepreneurship program at the University of Texas at Austin, I had the unique opportunity to see first-hand both the grit that goes into graduate study and the rewards earned for that hard work.
Over the past few months, I followed in the footsteps, literally and figuratively, of Kristina Durante, a graduate student in the Psychology Department in the College of Liberal Arts. One of my jobs as her mentee involved working as a research assistant in the Li Lab (Norman Li is the professor under which Kristina does her graduate work). Here I got to see first hand how graduate research is conducted because I was one of the actual people running participants and entering data. This was also an amazing opportunity to see how to run research that is more advanced. Another part of my internship involved shadowing Kristina in her capacity as teaching assistant for a PSY418 lab section. PSY418 is the lower division statistics and research methods class required by the psychology department of all majors before advancing to any upper division classes. In this particular class, all statistics was taught in the regular class, and all research methods were taught in the lab. This was very beneficial for me because I had the unique opportunity to serve as a sort of assistant to the teaching assistant. I helped students understand concepts and also graded or pre-graded papers and assignments. Here I got first hand knowledge of what it might be like to serve as a teaching assistant as a way to help pay for my education. This was also beneficial because I got a first hand experience of what it was like to have to balance class, research, and actually running and grading a class independently.
For me, the experience of shadowing Kristina culminated in viewing her dissertation defense. In the most literal sense, this experience allowed me to see what the end goal of graduate work is: the completion of a dissertation and earning of the PhD distinction. In a less literal sense, this viewing represented many things for me. More than anything, however, watching Kristina defend her research proposal in front of a panel of UT professors reminded me of what, in my eyes, a PhD is all about: earning the respect and ardor of soon to be peers in your chosen field of study. Similarly, acceptance into a graduate program seems to signify, more than anything, this kind of reverence. By allowing someone to study under them, a psychology program is essentially deeming that person worthy of the respect of those professors. While he or she still must rise to meet the expectations of these men and women, the letter of acceptance signifies that the department thinks that the person is capable of doing so. That is why, to me, acceptance into a good graduate program of study seems the ultimate goal of a prospective PhD student. Once admitted, it may be up to the student to live up to the expectations of the department, but the point is that the department has already decided that the student is theoretically capable of doing so.
My perception of graduate study hasn't really changed much since entering the Communication School's IE program. Previous conceptions that I had still seem to hold true. If anything this experience has mostly confirmed my views of graduate student work. While it may appear so, my unchanged views are actually not a representation of a poor learning experience. While I may have had previous conceptions, I had no real idea of whether or not I was correct in my assumptions. Therefore, not only has this mentorship helped me to confirm my assumptions, but it has also given me tangible experience to help me in my pursuit of graduate level work. To me, it is this real life understanding of the day to day life of a grad student that holds the most importance and relevance of the undergraduate internship experience. A person can learn about PhD programs in a classroom all day long without the slightest notion of what the pursuit of the degree is really like. It is only through real life participation that one discovers what the actual experience is like.
All of us, presumably, have many different commitments: school, work, extra-curricular activities, etc. For me, the thing that ties all of these obligations together is the end goal of acceptance to what I deem to be a good graduate school with a good psychology program. Every action on my part since my arrival at the University of Texas at Austin has been in pursuit of this ambition. My membership in Psi Chi (the honors psychology organization at UT), my participation in the departmental honors program, my sorority membership, my class choices, and all my other commitments are all choices I make/made in an attempt to build a resume that graduate schools might find appealing for admittance. This glue holding these different commitments together may seem callous and calculating. However, it is only through accomplishing the goal of graduate school acceptance that I can really earn the opportunity for real higher level learning. So in reality, it seems the more future oriented glue holding my undergraduate experience together is the aim of graduate level study. Only at this stage in education will I be given the opportunity to study what I want and to the fullest extent available to me. Therefore, it seems that the most important thing I learned this semester is not only that my assumptions about graduate school were correct, but that I still want to pursue it.