Geological Sciences/Geography Senior Radha Vyas
I began the Pre-Graduate Internship with the intention of working closely with my graduate student mentor on my senior thesis project. Alex had asked me if I would be interested in working with her in the program. It was only a small extension of the work we were already doing since last fall. In addition to her helping me with my senior thesis project, I was going to help her with her PhD project. She was going to teach me some new laboratory analyses methods, and she was really going to be a huge help in getting me comfortable with writing this major paper. She already had vast knowledge about the subject, and she knew where I stood on the project. With our faculty adviser out on sabbatical for the year, I was counting on Alex to be the one to help me through my project. But shortly after the semester began, she informed me that she was taking a leave of absence. Suddenly, I was placed in a very difficult position. I no longer had the person I was relying on to guide me through this daunting project, but I still wanted to continue with the internship program. Without her, it still sounded like it could be a great opportunity to explore some of the aspects of graduate school. My task then was to find someone else.
I met with one of my faculty adviser's other students, Frank. He was happy to take me on and be my mentor. We met occasionally first to discuss my senior thesis. His PhD project was not directly related to my work. It was a little difficult to get going on my thesis since he did not know the nuts and bolts of my project, which is what I really needed. Since I had been working on the project for almost a year already, I had a pretty good idea of what I had to do, but I needed someone who knew more than me about my topic to get me going. I decided that it might be a more valuable experience for me to explore some of the aspects about graduate school. I talked with my new mentor, Frank, about graduate school. He told me about the application process, the entrance exams, applying for funding, writing personal statements, writing grant proposals, and various other things. Frank really knows his stuff about geography and the department here at UT. Everything he had to offer was helpful, but I still felt unfulfilled. Although my internship is through the Department of Geography, my focus and my passion are in geology. I wanted to know more about attending graduate school in geology.
At the beginning of the semester, I fully intended to proceed to graduate school for a master's degree after I finished my bachelor's degree. As the semester progressed, I discovered that there was a lot more that I needed to understand both in school and in life before I could commit myself to another two years of school.
At first, I was concerned with finding funding for graduate school. I did some research online, spoke with some of my friends in geology, and spoke with the graduate adviser at the Jackson School of Geosciences here at UT. I discovered that almost every school that I would want to go to in this country, including the Jackson School, offered funding to the majority of their graduate students. With that aside, it seemed like the possibilities were endless. But the biggest issue I was faced with was first deciding what in the world I want to study for a master's degree. This has still not been completely resolved after a whole semester of searching.
During the last pre-grad meeting with the graduate mentors, one graduate student had said that leaving school for work really helped her to mature and become an adult. Continuing straight through school would have prolonged her path to maturity. I believe that I am ready to grow up and move on to the next stage of my life, but the academic environment would only hold me back longer than I would like. Another student had mentioned that he continued from his bachelor's degree to his master's degree at the same institution. He said that overall it has been a good experience, but it is difficult to juggle the many differences between an undergraduate education and a graduate education. Many of his friends are younger than him, and still want to do the same things they always do. As a graduate student, school becomes so much more demanding that it is often difficult to make it work unless you are careful. I cannot think of a better place to continue towards a graduate education than the Jackson School of Geosciences. However, the issue of being in the same place with the same people is a real concern for me. Most of my friends are also younger than me, and are most of them are geology students. I have a hard enough time as it is juggling between school and friends. I do not know if I can trust myself to commit wholeheartedly if it means not hanging out with my friends for long periods of time. This issue then arises of where I would go to school if not here. I prefer not to go to school anywhere else but here. Not because I do not want to move, but because the Jackson School is the place to be for geology. A great number of people, graduate students, and faculty alike, have told me that going to school elsewhere might be one of the best things I could do in my life. Different institutions have people with different backgrounds and can offer new perspectives on life. Part of me wants to stay at UT for its academic excellence, and a part of me wants to experience something different. It is a difficult decision to make.
Many of the other graduate students also mentioned their fears of burn-out. When the semester started, I was pumped and ready to take on the world. I thought that I was absolutely ready to go straight for my masters. However, this feeling has changed drastically through the semester. The semester was considerably more intense than I even fathomed possible. Professors expect much, much more out of us as seniors than they did when we were underclassmen. Both the amount of work and the level of the work are expected to be nothing less than exceptional. It has been a struggle for me to adhere to this when I have come so far, and I am now so close to the end of my undergraduate career. Based on what most people have told me, graduate school will only be exponentially more intense. I have one more semester left, after which I need to take a break away from school. In the past, when I was working during my summer breaks instead of attending summer school, I would always get bored without school. It was difficult for me to do the same thing day after day. I expect that after a year I might feel the same way again, though I am slightly unsure since this time I will have a real job.
At the end of October, I was lucky enough to attend the Geological Society of America (GSA) Annual Conference in Denver, Colorado. I intended to attend as many technical sessions as I possibly could in order to come across a subject that I found more interesting than the rest. I found the complete opposite. Instead of finding just one thing that was more interesting, I was exposed to so many new ideas that I had not known about before. It caused my dilemma to become even more complex. It was by no means a negative experience though. I was able to meet a large number of graduate students, professors, and executives from their respective industries from all over the country, and some from outside of the United States. They had many interesting stories to share about their life experiences. Most of the people I talked to had originally started their careers as engineers, but after working for some time, they decided to return to school for graduate degrees in geology. A lot of them shared my same dilemmas when they were in my position, and it seemed as though all of them were happy with the decisions that they made. Meeting all of these people helped me to gain a new perspective and become even more enthusiastic about geology. It helped me to strengthen my decision to join the work force, and even made me all the more excited about working as a hydrogeologist. It also helped me to still be enthusiastic about some day returning to school.
During our faculty symposium, the professors all agreed that most of their best students were those that had worked in the industry before coming back for a graduate degree. The students come back to school with full knowledge that they are taking a serious pay cut. The faculty indicated that these students are generally much more motivated than their younger counterparts. Mostly because they have experienced the real world, they know how things work, and they know the applications of what they are researching. This really struck a good note with me. I want to be a great student when I pursue a graduate education, but I really do not know what I want to study. There are far too many things that I find absolutely fascinating within geology that I cannot possibly choose just one topic, or even a couple of topics that I could combine. I feel like I need to find a job in the real world, and actually do the work to find out what I like the most. An undergraduate education gives an overview of the concepts applied in the industry as a whole. It gives you the power to be well suited to just about any entry-level position imaginable, but it is too general for me to find that one thing I can be committed to for a few years. I know of a million different things that interest me, but I have not applied them to anything but homework and tests. How can I possibly know what I enjoy doing if I have not actually done them in the real world?
Finally as the semester comes to the end, I've come to at least one conclusion: I still want to go to graduate school-but not yet. I first need to recover from six years of an undergraduate education and experience a world outside of academics. The moment I come across the question for which I can get no answer-that is when I will know it is time to return to school to find that answer for myself.