Government Pre-Grad Intern Sarah Mallams

Sarah MallamsMy Pre-Gradate School Internship Experience

My semester in the IE Pre-Graduate School Internship has been one of the most invaluable experiences of my undergraduate education here at UT. I am now finishing up my senior year and am proud to say that I will be enrolling as a graduate student this upcoming fall at Claremont Graduate University. I am confident that going to graduate school next year is, in fact, what I want to do next. This confidence is almost entirely a result of my experiences this past semester with the Pre-Graduate School Internship.

I first began thinking about going to graduate school around this time last year, the spring of 2010. I was enjoying all of my classes, my assigned readings, even a couple of my papers, but I was starting to worry about what I would do when graduation came around. As I thought about what I wanted to do next, I realized I just really enjoyed being a student, and I starting considering the possibility of graduate school.

The semester ended and summer flew by quickly, as it usually does, but graduate school was still on my mind. When school started back up in the fall, I signed up to take the GRE and began the application process for a couple of graduate programs so that, if I were accepted, I would have the option of possibly going to graduate school if that is what I decided I wanted to do after graduation. At that point in time, I was still uncertain. I was worried about making such a big commitment when I really did not know too much about what to expect as a graduate student. Towards the end of the semester, I heard about the Pre-Graduate School Internship through a friend who had participated the previous year. To me, it sounded like the perfect opportunity to learn more about what graduate school entails so that I could make my decision about whether or not it was right for me.

I approached a graduate student here in the Government department, Laura Field, who I had had as a TA and as an instructor. Laura is a Ph.D. student, focusing on political theory-the field of political science that I am particularly interested in studying in graduate school. Laura agreed to be my mentor and we met at the start of this semester to set up a plan for the internship.

My main goal entering this internship was learning about what being a graduate student entails and what are the biggest differences between graduate and undergraduate study. Laura and I decided that we should incorporate aspects of real graduate student life into my internship-sitting in on a few Government graduate courses, attending different lectures and discussions, and so on. We also decided to meet every other week or so to discuss what she had been doing in her studies and any questions that I had about graduate school. Additionally, I was working on a senior thesis in political theory this past year, and Laura agreed to incorporate my project with the internship. These experiences were extremely beneficial to me in making my final decision.

One of the more eye-opening experiences for me while learning about life as a graduate student was sitting in on actual graduate courses. In picking out the courses, we took into consideration my own interests. My thesis this year is about two political philosophers, Alexis de Tocqueville and Friedrich Nietzsche, and oddly enough, there are graduate courses that were being offered this semester on both Tocqueville and Nietzsche. I approached the professor who taught the Tocqueville course, and he was kind enough to give me permission to come by and sit in on the class. When I was in the graduate-level course, the main difference I noticed from the undergraduate courses I was accustomed to was that in the graduate course, there was not nearly as much lecture. The professor was not so much the focus, as he typically would be in an undergrad course. He was not as "in charge." Learning depended more on the students than I expected. There was much more discussion and the students, more or less, directed the course. They brought up points from the reading that they found particularly puzzling and they tossed around different possible interpretations and possible implications of the arguments. They questioned each other and they were all very engaged. Each person contributed to the discussion-something you don't usually see at the undergraduate level. There was a lot more responsibility on the students.

I also learned a great deal about balance from my Pre-Graduate School Internship experience. When discussing my thesis, Laura taught me a lot about how to keep your focus in such a long paper or project. I found that often, I'd loose sight of my greater project for my thesis in the midst of the tens of pages of build-up. It was sometimes hard to remember what my real point was. Laura talked with me about how she goes about writing a lengthy paper and how she manages to keep her eye on the prize, so the speak. One thing that she suggested that I found very helpful was keeping charts and visual aides around my desk to remind me of my bigger purpose. I wrote out my purpose and thesis for my entire paper and hung it on the wall by my desk. I also made a very brief outline for the entire thesis so that I could, at all times, see where I was in my greater project. Working on such a big project, writing something as long as a thesis, and learning how to stay focused and organized in the process was a really valuable experience and one that will be very helpful in graduate study.

I also feel that I learned a great deal about graduate life through my frequent meetings with Laura and her updates on what she was currently working on. I was able to watch firsthand the ups and downs of beings a graduate student. Sometimes in our meetings she would have exciting news or some big break through. Other times, things weren't going nearly as well for her. I saw her at her peaks and at her lows. I saw how hard graduate school can be and the sometimes psychological toll it can take on you. I also got to see how busy graduate students are and how they manage to strike a balance. I found these meetings refreshing. They were far from sugar coated; I felt that they were a real, authentic look at what being a graduate student is like, and some of it wasn't pretty. Despite seeing Laura struggle at times, I know that overall, graduate school is a positive and worthwhile experience if you really care about what you study.

I am pleased that I learned so much this semester about what it takes to be a graduate student and how my graduate education will differ from my undergraduate. I learned a lot about what it is really like, the good and the bad. If I had to summarize everything that I learned into the most simplified statement, I would say that what I learned about graduate school is that there is a lot more responsibility for your own learning and growth. You will be both a student and a teacher as a graduate student and your years spent in graduate school will be some of the most challenging, but rewarding, years of your life. Ultimately, if you love being a student and are truly passionate about learning and your field of study, graduate school is a very good option. For me personally, I have decided that this path is a good fit for me because I want to forever be a student. After completing my internship with Laura this semester and gaining a better perspective of what graduate study will entail, I feel confident that I am going to the right place next year at Claremont Graduate University.