5 Reasons Why Grad School is the Worst (but actually the best)- From a Grad Student

It was senior year of college, and as my friends started to perfect resumes for jobs and meet with career counselors, I was stumped when it came to what I wanted to do next.

The thing was, I loved my college experience and I never wanted it to end; the late night snack parties, movie nights with friends, days in the library procrastinating with classmates. I was a leader on campus and involved myself in nearly every aspect of campus life I could think of. For me, the prospect of graduation was less exciting than it was sad.

I chose to come to graduate school because simply, I didn’t want college to end. I got accepted to UVM’s HESA progam, and started my graduate career right away. It wasn’t much like undergrad.

Here’s a few reasons why my experience was a total bummer*.

*Warning. There might be some sarcasm and humor in this post – particularly all the words in italics – I can’t help it, I’m a millennial.

1. Free School Sucks!

Like a lot of students, I was graduating from college with a lot of student loans and the prospect of paying for more school was not in any way appealing.

However, when I started researching graduate schools and programs I discovered that a lot of institutions will actually pay for student’s degrees and pay them for their service to the college. I not only fell in love with UVM, the green mountains, and the food on Church Street, but the financial package UVM offered me.

My process for selecting a graduate school was really centered on where I could get the most financial aid and salary for the work experience I would contribute to the college.

2. Gaining tangible work experience makes it way harder to get a job when you graduate

While I am in classes full time at UVM, I also work for the Department of Residential Life and am able to translate the theory I am learning in the classroom to practice. When I first started thinking about getting a master’s degree, I was afraid I would be over educated with no experiences.

Luckily, most graduate program incorporate internships, jobs, or teaching experiences, that help students prepare for the working world after graduation.

3. Having a seat at the table means you have just too many opportunities

To me, the best part about being a graduate student, is that everyone around you sees you as a learner first. I am often invited to meetings and spaces that I would never have the opportunity to shadow if my work at UVM were an entry level job.

It’s really special and cool to be a in a graduate program, because you are invited into another level of academic spaces which become a conduit to experiences and knowledge to which you never would have normally been exposed. These experiences have all come together to make me feel confident in my knowledge and abilities in a way that I wasn’t after undergrad.

4.Taking ownership of your own learning and focusing on what you are passionate about is super boring

My favorite part of my experiences in graduate school is the passion and excitement I have discovered for my own learning. When you are focused exclusively on not only a topic that maters to you, but specific issues and concepts within that topic, learning becomes so much less trivial.

In graduate school; professors invite you into research, see you as a colleague and peer rather than a pupil and you learn to create new knowledge rather than just reproduce it.

5. Its hard having so many friends and even worse building meaningful connections

Some of my greatest friends and mentors where made in college. When I graduated and started graduate school at UVM I never thought I would build connection and friendships as strong as I have.

Graduate school fosters individuals who are strong, passionate, diverse, and excited about learning. Many programs function in a cohort model and this model has giving me a group of 14 students who have been through it all with me. My peers are some of my greatest teachers and it is even more exciting to know that we are not only classmates, but the future of a work field we care so much about.

Carly graduated from Mount Holyoke College is 2016 and is graduating this May from UVM’s College of Education and Social Services Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) program. While at UVM she works in the department of Residential Life and with the UVM Foundation.

Survey Results!

Remember how we said we’d be calling you? Well, we collected all your answers, and have some fun facts for you all!

All of you are amazing, but we know that being out in the world after graduation isn’t always the easiest. Part of the reason we do these check in surveys is to share with your classmates that their experience is not out of the ordinary – You’re not the only one working part time, or applying for grad school. We’re all finding our way together.

Check it out! We have a sweet heat map of all the places that you guys have spread to since leaving campus, as well as some charts about what you’re all up to these days.

Not shown here are the alums that are currently based in Canada, China, El Salvador, France, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Peru, Switzerland, and the UK! You aren’t just all over the country, you’re all over the world!

We also asked about what you guys feel most connected to here at UVM. We are always curious about this.

With older alumni the answers are sometimes easier, because UVM was a smaller, different University. Now, with such a wide range of student experience, we want to know what you all identify with, and let that inform how we keep you connected with each other and campus.

Thanks for all your input, we’ll be back next week with more classic Afterword.

My First Year Out (So Far) – Olivia Peña ’17

Today we have another edition of My First Year Out, featuring your classmate Olivia Peña. From graduate school at UVM to travels in Kenya and interning in Senator Patrick Leahy’s office, she’s been up to quite a bit since graduation. Take some time to read her great story below.

Describe your first year out:

After a busy, action-packed senior year, I wanted to take some time to decompress before starting graduate school. When not traveling, I decided to spend most of my summer in Burlington and working. Prior to graduating in the spring, I was hired from as a research assistant by the Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Systems group at the Gund Institute on campus. I held a similar position during senior year as an intern for CCAFS, and was able to continue the research of food waste and climate change over the summer. It was a great opportunity to learn more about the environmental impacts of agriculture and food systems while also gaining a firsthand understanding of the research process for a project funded by USAID. The research position was also flexible enough to enjoy the Vermont summer. Spending the summer here was a great time to hike through the beautiful Green Mountains, explore swimming holes, go to local breweries, and watch Lake Monsters games without the constraints of homework or classes.

What was your biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?

Through the accelerated Food Systems masters program, I was able to begin my graduate work during my senior year. Fall 2017 was my first semester fully in the graduate program, and it’s been a challenging yet rewarding journey thus far. Specifically, I think the level of analysis associated with the graduate work has been totally mind-bending. My professors have introduced new ways of thinking and knowing (this is called epistemologies) and various concepts from different subjects of which I was not previously familiar. However, through this challenge, I have learned the importance of reaching out and asking for additional help. Even though graduate school is a higher level of learning than in undergraduate, professors are still very willing to help you understand and talk through different concepts.

I had a unique opportunity during the fall to intern in Senator Patrick Leahy’s office. This comprehensive position entailed interacting with community members through phone calls and letters, assisting staff members, and conducting research on various topics and policies. I was also fortunate to be able to attend different outreach events with staffers ranging from agricultural hearings to naturalization ceremonies. It was hard work, but definitely confirmed that I would like to work in a policy or public administration position one day.

What are you doing now?

2018 was off to an interesting start as I spent the first two weeks in Kenya on a service-learning trip. Through the Nutrition and Community Development departments, we prepared three different projects for our community partners centering on public health, entrepreneurship, and food systems. It was a great opportunity to take my skills gained the classroom in food systems and community development and apply them to a real life situation. This trip was also a cultural exchange in a way, as we stayed in authentic Kenyan hotels near the communities with whom we worked and ate indigenous foods. Sukuma wiki means kale in Swahili, and I’m happy to say that it is a delicious staple in their diet. I would be in remiss if I did not say that a highlight of the trip was the safari in the Masai Mara Reserve. Seeing wild elephants up close was incredible, until they trumpeted at our safari van as if to say, “okay now, back off!”

I’m currently on my last semester of courses for my master’s degree. In conjunction, I am also working on my research for my final project. This is a highly self-directed process, meaning that there is a lot of planning and personal motivation required to create, shape, and carry out your project plan. My research is focused on understanding the current state of community and stakeholder involvement in Vermont during the Farm Bill policy development process, and the ways by which stakeholders go about communicating their needs to policymakers and representatives. I’m hoping that the outcome of my project will be a guidebook that can be used as a tool for all Vermonters interested in getting involved and communicating their needs from food and agricultural policy.

Any advice to classmates?

My advice for my fellow classmates and future UVM graduates is to not be afraid to reach out and ask others for help. Whether from your parents, friends, peers, previous professors, new bosses, or even various departments throughout UVM, they are always willing to offer guidance to help you continue to succeed. I have found that the support didn’t end at graduation when it comes to my undergraduate professors. Your friends and family know you best, and have been there every step of the way through the college journey and likely want to continue to support your journey. I am privileged that I have my family and friends (thanks Goonsquad!) by my side as I continue on this next phase.


Know someone like who is doing something really cool in their first year out?

My First Year Out – Joseph Thomas ’08

Hey everyone, we hope you are settling in nicely to the new year. Remember a few months back when we featured class of 2016 graduate Sarah Weiss? She shared a bit about what she was up to in her her first year out of school. You can read her story here.

This week, and in the months to come, we will continue to feature young alumni and their first year experiences. Feel inspired to share yours? Check out the end of this post to see how you can.

Joseph Thomas is a 2008 graduate and current UVM Foundation Fellow who has spent time in numerous locations around the country working in politics and has recently landed back in his hometown of New York City. Check out his story below.

Describe your first year out:

My first year out I lived in Washington D.C. I worked as a Staff Assistant on the Senate Judiciary Committee, with Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, who was then Chairman of the committee. it was right at the beginning of the Obama Administration, we worked on the first expansion of federal hate crimes legislation, and the first to include any type of protections for LGBT individuals on a federal level, and the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, for me it was a great time to be in D.C.

What was your biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?

Trying to balance having so much free time and no homework to do. I never had things like expendable income, free time and a new city to discover. Friends and coworkers helped me out, friends were coming down to DC and I was able to discover new parts of the city I had not been able to see.

What did you learn from this experience?

I learned from this experience that the first year out of college after so much time in school can be scary, and challenging, but manageable. College helps you discover a lot about who you are, but learning and growing doesn’t stop when college does. For me this was my first time really being on my own without the college safety net to help me and I learned a great deal about my own ability to be independent.   

What are you doing now?

I am a lawyer and I am getting ready to start working with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Office as a Liaison on Community Affairs.  Just before this new role I came off of working on the de Blasio Campaign working in my hometown of The Bronx, and before that working on the Clinton Campaign, doing Voter Protection Work in Wisconsin.  

Any advice?

Challenge yourself, your first year out. There is so much you can learn about yourself. Take the time to try out things you’ve never done. Within my first year I tried yoga (wasn’t a fan) Skydiving (I was a fan) went to plays, musicals, museums, and I traveled to different cities, all things I never gave myself time to do in college and wish that I had. It was a rewarding experience because of how much I discovered about my likes and dislikes and all the cool things any city, no matter where you are has amazing things to offer.

Want to share your first year out so far? Email us at afterword@uvm.edu

Networking: Advice and Tips from Aya AL-Namee ’15

Over the past two weeks, the UVM Alumni Association hosted networking events in cities all over the country, including Boston, NYC, and San Francisco!

If you couldn’t attend or don’t live in one of those areas, fear not. We checked in with  Aya AL-Namee ’15, who attended the networking event in Boston, and are bringing her advice to you!

As someone who’s worked in admissions, and a frequent Alumni volunteer, she’s a pro at the most effective networking approaches. Check out her advice below.

What advice do you have for recent graduates attending networking events?

My advice is to not be shy and to put yourself out there. Approach every interaction as a learning opportunity and a chance to ask for advice and you will get much more than what you expect from the networkers. Do not limit yourself to your industry! You will be amazed at what you can learn from other people who have experience in different professional fields.

Did you have an outstanding interaction with someone at the networking event? Why was it memorable?

I had many outstanding interactions and my most memorable one was with a business student who fearlessly approached the education and non-profit table and asked for general job searching advice – Should I go to grad school? Should I get a job right after? What was even more impressive is the fact that she added me on LinkedIn before any of the students who were interested in working in my field!

Any other advice related to networking and job searching for recent UVM alumni?

If you are a recent UVM grad, I highly recommend getting in touch with as many UVM alumni in your area as possible! You never know what that can lead you to. At the very least they will be a great group of friends and support system for you in your “real world” first steps.