Friday, July 3rd, 2015...7:03 pm

Life After Grad School: A Retrospective

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Guest blogger: Trish Starling, OISE Master’s graduate  and former Gradlife blogger

It’s been two years since I graduated from OISE and this time of year seems to bring me back to the space I was in soon following graduation. While I can’t claim to speak for everyone, last week I had a conversation with a good friend of mine who is defending her PhD shortly. Listening to this highly intelligent, highly capable, and confident woman’s anxieties demonstrated that everyone feels a little (a lot) unsure in the months after (and leading up to) the walk across the Convocation Hall stage.

So what do I have to offer two years later? Just a few things:

1) Graduating from school is awesome! (But mostly scary.)

It’s true! Most of us have spent countless (okay, 15+) years in the classroom, probably doing pretty well there, and somewhat liking/loving the process of institutionalized learning. I mean, there are always exceptions, but I’d presume most people who choose grad school probably love(d) school. And so, being faced with the prospect of leaving that space can be outright terrifying. That’s normal.

2) Recognize that fear shouldn’t make your decisions.

Closely leading up to graduating, I met with my supervisor to discuss the prospect of moving into a doctoral program. After spending 3, 4, 21, evenings crying over job opportunities (did I mention I graduated with a teaching degree?), I had decided that there was so much more I could research beyond my MRP, and actually, I do really love writing and research and education and the classroom, and pushing boundaries and learning and… You know what my supervisor said? “Didn’t you spend the last year and a half explaining to me your desire to make a difference and discuss ideas outside of academia? I think you’re scared—I don’t think you want a PhD”.

Turns out academics are pretty smart people! My supervisor nailed it on the head—I was looking for a familiar option, as opposed to what (I now recognize) as the right option*.

3) Someone will hire you! You’re pretty darn smart, y’know?

It’s true! The thing about grad students is that lots of us don’t recognize how transferable our skills really are! Speaking with a career counselor can help market yourself as a highly capable and skilled prospective employee (because you are one!).

4) But you will have to swallow your pride.

In order to work right out of the gate (OSAP was looming), I had to embrace the idea that most jobs pay better than my masters did (cough cough), and there is value in that. I started out in a paying-only-slightly-better-than-minimum-wage contract position (lots of those floating around) that was only supposed to be a 3-month summer student position. I treated it like a learning experience, and tried to get as much out of it as I could. I worked hard, offered skills that weren’t required for the position, and demonstrated the work ethic that all of us academics ultimately HOLD DOWN (and hold it down well). What happened? I learned a ton, I received a permanent position and a promotion and got that 2+ years experience that so many of those job listings throw-around. Life after grad school, I had found it!

And so, life after grad school is totally a thing. It’s out there and it’s exciting and a little bit scary. But the truth is, we will probably have lots of jobs in our lives, and every time one chapter ends, we’ll never know what happens next—the key is to trust the uncertainty and know that we can learn from everything, because above everything else, we are all pretty fabulous learners.

*For me! Of course there are lots of good reasons to pursue a PhD, it just wasn’t my jam and my brief moment of thinking it was, was fueled by fear and not much else.

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