Educational Psychology IE Pre-Grad Intern Sarah Fard
As an undergraduate at The University of Texas, my academic experiences during the past four years consisted almost entirely of coursework formatted in lecture and subsequent testing. Then, last spring, I made a bold decision to pursue an extra semester, finishing my degree in four and a half years, as opposed to the usual four. The decision was not made lightly, and many financial and personal factors were seriously considered. However, my decision to continue longer than planned was strongly motivated by the fact that as a senior, I had the sense that I needed to try and accumulate more academic experience and insight, specifically regarding a graduate education. As a result, I registered myself for one extra psychology course and the pre graduate internship.
I had established what I wanted to experience and gain from the internship before I had even met my mentor. We established a good communicative strategy over the summer as she began to prep me on the process and procedures that routinely follow when applying to graduate school. My primary interest was to learn what made being a graduate student different from being an undergraduate. This was also a reason why I was hesitant to graduate and apply earlier, the fear of the unknown. I had decided that I wanted to pursue graduate school because I knew that it was necessary in order to work in the field I am interested, but I was anxious as to how it would truly affect my life.
Throughout the semester, my mentor helped lead me through the graduate application process. We worked on breaking down the application into a less overwhelming and daunting task. She and I set rough deadlines for everything from recommendation requests to the personal statement. Rochelle, my mentor, helped demystify the application process and provide helpful tips on how to, for example, approach a professor regarding a recommendation, or cope with a disappointing GRE score! Rochelle also shared many of her experiences during the application process, which was not only comforting, but also very useful as I continue to work on my materials. In addition to the more concrete aspects of my internship, Rochelle and I also attended weekly research meetings with one of her research groups. One of the many impressive things I have noticed about graduate students is their commitment to research. This is also one of the things I find most intimidating when considering graduate studies. After attending the meetings however, I have begun to understand how students can balance research interests with classes and other commitments. The process, although long and tedious, can be done in such a way that is interesting, fun, and productive, as I have concluded from my observations. After all, when the students join a research project, or begin a project of their own, the reasoning is based in the fact that the work is interesting and the students want to learn and discover new things. When considering research in this way it is less intimidating and more exciting. Furthermore, I have never considered working in a group environment voluntarily, especially after my experiences as an undergraduate. However, the "Well Beiong" research team, whose meetings I have been attending all semester, have reestablished my "faith" so to say, in group assignments. Everyone attended the early morning meetings with enthusiasm and ideas that they were ready to share. It was refreshing to see dedicated and intelligent individuals working together towards the same ultimate goal.
My mentor has just begun her dissertation this semester and is only undertaking one course in addition to her dissertation. I was never able to attend a graduate class with her due to scheduling conflicts, but I was still able to get a decent view of how a graduate class is run. I read through Rochelle's syllabus, and got an idea of how assignments are spread out and grades are distributed. Although, I would have liked to sit in on an entire class since there are different classroom dynamics that are more difficult to realize without actually attending. From my understanding through listening to Rochelle at our own weekly meetings, and other graduate students at the research meetings, a class is only worth what you put into it - or don't, just like anything else in graduate school.
Participation in discussion can be much more useful the more you prepare and engage yourself, as with anything from research to attending conferences and seminars. One of the things I found most surprising about graduate courses were the assignments. The classes I looked over primarily consisted of one major project and perhaps one or two less arduous assignments. Most of the classes did not focus on testing throughout the semester, but rather creative assignments that incorporated topics from the lectures and discussions, with the exception of statistics and other courses of that nature.
As I approach the end of the semester, and my undergraduate education, I feel as though my "bold move" to continue for an extra semester was not done in vain. I have gained tremendous insight that I would not have been able to find in any other class or part time job. Rochelle has helped me to develop my self-disciplinary skills, and become more self reliant and independent simply through her suggestions and knowledge in clearing up the application process. I have never been nave to the commitment it takes to succeed in graduate school, yet, before my internship experience, the commitment seemed overwhelming and intimidating. Surviving graduate life now seems to be in the realm of possibility. Although my commitment was always strong, the internship has helped me gain perspective so that I am now confident that the value of a graduate degree to my career goals will be enough to motivate me even during the most frustrating times.