Farewell Grad School

Last week, I finished my final year of formal education when I finished grad school. In just 10 short months, I earned my Master’s degree. I went to grad school straight from undergrad; it wasn’t an easy decision, but I’m glad I did it that way. At times, it just felt like a fifth year. As I reflect now, these last 10 months flew by faster than any of my four years in undergrad.

And now my life will be completely different. I can no longer claim “student status.”

For the first time in 19 years, I will not have a “real” summer break. I won’t go back to school in the fall and spend my days in class. Instead, I’ll spend my days at a job, hopefully a job that I enjoy and want to go to every day. I won’t be able to rely on built-in vacation time at Thanksgiving, Christmas and spring break, and instead will have to plan those myself around company time.

My homework will shift from writing papers, working on video and web-based projects and studying for exams, to keeping up with trends in my industry and doing outside reading, “assigned” or not. I’d like to think that part of my “homework time” will shift to “passion project time,” like working on that novel I’ve been planning for three years, but that remains to be seen.

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It’s a weird feeling.

Grad school is not easy; it’s fitting that my last year of formal education was my most difficult. Imagine two years’ worth of material condensed into 10 short months – that’s what it was like. With at least a project a week, pages upon pages of reading, teaching myself new web development languages, writing literature reviews (okay only one of those), building my thesis project, and job searching and networking, at times the workload felt insurmountable. I learned the magic of putting things on my to-do list that I’d already done, just so I could cross them off and feel productive. It helped, sometimes.

It was like my final year of formal education threw every challenge it could at me, like it knew it wouldn’t get another chance. In that sense, it didn’t disappoint. But after surviving the year, I think I can handle (almost) anything life sends my way.

Am I glad to be finished with my formal education?

If you asked me that today, I would say, heck to the yes, I am glad to be finished. I’ve been in school for 19 years, and that’s plenty. Another year would’ve been the end of me (so props to y’all who do grad school for 2-3 years). The burnout is real, and I’m glad I managed to avoid that throughout the year.

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But just because I’m not in school or a lecture doesn’t mean I’m finished learning. I believe in lifelong learning, no matter your environment or what’s happening in your life. Every situation is an opportunity to learn something new.

One day, in my senior year of college, I was meeting with a professor about a research paper I was writing for her class. After explaining the theory that I planned to use as the basis for my paper, my professor looked at me, puzzled.

“Why did you choose a theory?” she asked. “Many of your classmates are writing about practical applications and strategy.”

“I like theories,” I told her. “I like studying them and finding my own applications for them.” She looked at me again.

“What kind of graduate program are you doing next year?” I explained how the Interactive Media program was more hands-on, professional-preparation intensive, not research-heavy and next-stop-PhD focused.

“Are you sure you don’t want to teach or work in academia?”

“I’m positive,” I assured her. She smiled.

“Don’t rule it out completely. I wouldn’t be surprised to see you back in academia one day.”

I don’t know if I’m cut out for academia, but that conversation has floated in the back of my mind since it happened. My professor seemed dead set on that idea and that I’d be a good fit in an academic setting. But who knows, another degree might be in my future. I won’t know until that time comes, if it comes.

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For now, though, it’s time to enjoy what little downtime I have and find a job. Adios, grad school. Thanks for the ride and everything you taught me. It’s time to go be a professional.