Community and Regional Planning Pre-Grad Intern Hillary Sotello

Hillary SotelloAs we grow older our opinions change, thus altering the direction we take in life. Perhaps this is not the case for every individual as they traverse the frightening realm of education for the purpose of obtaining well-paid employment, but it is most definitely my own case. Throughout my "stop and go" college experience, I have worked full-time, run my own business and have taken time to give my attention fully to school always with the hopes of eventually getting to graduate school. When I entered this pre-graduate school mentorship program, there was no doubt in my mind I wanted to go to graduate school in the University of Texas at Austin's Community and Regional Planning program. However, my opinion has changed.

Every time I immerse myself whole-heartedly in to a pure academic lifestyle, I yearn for the "real world." This feeling is something I have recognized very recently and I have chosen to act upon my feelings and pursue the business world, at least for now, and put off graduate school for a few years if not entirely. This realization was not only because of my involvement in the pre-graduate school mentorship program but also due to my heavy involvement with my current job at a real estate and financial restructuring law firm. Before the semester started, I was given many more responsibilities, a pay raise and I work nearly full-time on top of a full-time school schedule. I found myself doing just enough to get by on school work and going full-throttle on work projects, networking and getting our law firm up and running since we are a young, start-up firm.

Though I have built a tremendous network and have made substantial leaps and bounds with my professional life, my GPA has suffered a bit and has dwindled from its former glory. Though my grades are still good, in the past I would have never let my GPA drop below a 3.75. Now that it is slightly lower than that mark, I find myself not being as concerned with my grades as I used to be or as I thought I would be. That realization was the point at which I stood back as asked myself, "Do I really want to go to grad school? Am I really going to care enough to put in the effort to 3 more years of academia?" I was two weeks from taking the GRE in October and hadn't cracked open a study book and was not looking forward to it.

That lack of effort for the GRE made me realize I wasn't ready so I canceled my test date. Considering the law firm is carving out a role for me for employment when I graduate, it is hard not to be distracted by guaranteed employment, salary and a job that I love. School at this point just takes up time that I could be working. Though that may be considered a bit blasphemous to the world of academia, those are my sentiments.

Neither of my parents went to college so I suppose I have a different perspective than other people whose parents are both college and/or grad school educated. I would not have been fair to myself or my graduate school professors to be half-attempting a graduate school education to just get through it. I have always thought that one should want to be there, want to focus solely on school and give it their all. If I am to attend graduate school, I want to feel that that is all that I want to do and nothing else and not just to go through the motions. I simply and honestly at this point in my life cannot do that when I have the current options laid before me. With a mound of debt from undergrad, I also felt it was financially more sustainable wait or not attend grad school. I have had to work to pay for school and take out loans and I do not want to burden myself further that what I will already be burdened with upon graduation. Though these were realizations that came to me just by assessing my own regard for work VS school, spending time with Christina, my mentor, solidified my sentiments about graduate school. Christina is doing amazing work and research as a community and regional planning student. She focuses on social justice through planning and takes pain-staking efforts to make sure populations are represented fairly. I respect her drive and hard work to the utmost and I often thought to myself, "Wow, she is a total rock star, I don't know how she does it."

Then I realized how she does it- she does not have the time to do much else outside of graduate school. I knew that I could not NOT work. Not only would I be agonized to be out of the professional scene I would also not be able to support myself financially. The amount of time and life that she devotes to her passion for school and furthering her education would not fit with my lifestyle and what I want professionally at this point in my life. Christina has been wonderful serving as a type of counselor and an ear to hear about my own school work, work and my wishes for the future. I felt that I have been there for her as well when she needs to bounce ideas off of some one. We both agree that having a person to talk to outside of our regular academic circles is not only refreshing but allows for new and different perspectives than we usually receive.

Having an inexperienced undergrad look over and hear about a research project certainly gives a different viewpoint than one she normally receives, she has pointed out. She has also pointed out different angles at which to tackle different school and work projects, different research methods and more. I feel we have had a great symbiotic relationship, though I wish we could have spent more time together. With her incredibly intensive schedule coupled with TA-ing for a GIS class, she rarely has extra time to spend face to face. Therefore, we do most communication via email. On top of my intense workload of work and school, it is difficult to connect but we have at least made a effort to meet once a week. With the advances in technology, projects rarely require face to face meetings and we have taken advantage of such technology. One project I did for Christina included transcribing a recorded interview of residents near the Holly Street power plant. Christina's task for the semester was to present research material on the topic of social equity regarding the neighborhoods surrounding the decommissioned plant. Christina was able to send me an MP3 file of the recorded interview, over 1.5 hours long, and I had to transcribe it for her. Due to the quality of the recording, accents and speed of the speakers, it was very difficult to transcribe and took a very long time. After completing this task for her, I definitely had a new found respect for Christina's devotion to her research.

Though I have chosen not to attend graduate school in the fall of 2012 at the University of Texas and do not know whether I ever will, I do not reflect on this mentorship experience as a negative in the least bit. This program was absolutely invaluable to me in the sense that it really gave me a much better sense of what was in store for me if I had chosen to go straight through to grad school. It is something for which I am unprepared, unready and unwilling to make way for in my current situation and at least for the next few years. With first-hand accounts from Christina and other graduate students I have gained a more clear and realistic understanding of her workload and the sacrifices she makes. I knew I was not ready. I feel that I perhaps had a romantic view of graduate school and thought I would have time to work and have free time. However, I have since learned that graduate school is a lot more commitment that I had imagined. I feel that I would be able to handle the workload and do very well but not with my current obligations and responsibilities with work and life. I also have to worry about my own financial well-being. I don't feel that I am above graduate school or think that I do not need it but I do know that I cannot give what it requires. Nor do I want to, yet.