How many undergrads in your department want to go to grad school?
Do all of them know what grad school is about?
Are there any students who might benefit greatly from grad school but aren’t even aware of the option?
In biology, typically more students want to go to professional school to become a dentist or a vet or a physical therapist or a dentist or a lawyer. But there will always be a few that want grad school.
Among the relatively few students who want to go grad school, some don’t learn about grad school until they’re applying. These students are deprived the opportunity to gain substantial research experience. That experience can either lead them into a great lab for grad school, or teach them that grad school is not meant for them.
Other students don’t have any specific professional goals, and might be interested in grad school if they knew what it is.
Of course, if you’re looking out for the undergrads in your lab, presumably you’ve had multiple conversations about grad school. But what about the students who don’t end up in anybody’s research lab, because they’ve never been informed?
Undergraduates typically don’t know what happens in grad school. Some students have had exposure to the culture of grad school, perhaps from family, or from working in a lab at a research institution.
It’s our duty to make sure that undergraduates are aware of their professional options early on. However, most departments don’t have any kind of systematic method to inform their majors about the what/how/why of grad school. It’s not the natural followup to an undergrad degree, but students should at least know that it’s an option.
When we talk to our students, it generally blows their mind that they get paid to be grad students rather than pay to be in school. And they get a deferral from any loans from undergrad too!
Does your department make a point to teach all majors about what grad school is? If so, how do you go about it?
5 thoughts on “Do all of your undergrads know what grad school is?”
At our 4 year college we actively recruit students to participate in faculty research. This is the first group that gets direct information and experience regarding graduate school. For a while we had a faculty member as the advisor for students interested in graduate training. When I was that person, I held annual seminars/discussions on “How to get into graduate school”. Many students showed up and many were there about health related fields, which was fine. I could emphasize the difference of “creating new knowledge” and getting paid for it versus the student paying for training in a field with a job title. Now academic advisors are responsible for this discussion one on one. Our student run biology club has various “career” events, inviting alumni to come and talk about their careers and an annual panel of students who have gotten into all kinds of graduates schools who address their journey and outcome to all students who come to the event. The latter is quite good since it is successful students talking to hopeful students. Nearly 99% of our freshmen think they will be doctors. It is through advising (we must meet our advisees twice a year for registration.), that students can be steered to new inspiring directions.
The professors in one of my undergraduate evolution courses took it upon themselves to devote an entire class period to discussing career options other than medical school, with a heavy focus on grad school and what it was like. They made grad school sound terrifying without even getting into the lack of traditional academic jobs afterwards. But then, my undergrad school was big and research-focused and a lot of biology majors there enter graduate school if they don’t get into medical school on their first try. So I don’t think they were so much telling us that grad school was an option, as trying to explain why we might want to do it for its own sake.
In our Intro Bio classes we have several activities that lead to interest students in undergraduate research, which will ultimately, recruit them for grad school – if this works out for them. One, is what we call “lab tours” – for this, faculty interested in recruiting undergrads into their labs, open their doors a specific day and time, when students can visit and ask questions about their research. Several freshmen have been recruited into research this way. Second, we have an office that promotes undergrad research and we direct their attention for their summer scholarship programs. Third, we have an alumni lecture series, in which we invite alumni that graduated from our Biology major and are now working in industry – as mentioned in previous comments, it opens students’ options to everything else that is out there for a bio major that is different than Med school.
I work at a smaller public, 4 year college. A good portion of our students are older; either with previous military experience or just deciding to change their career. A very large number are first generation college students. I frequently get questions about jobs, less frequently about graduate school. This winter, I am teaching a new required Seminar called “careers in environmental science”. I’ll have conference calls and live speakers from a variety of disciplines. I will devote at least one week to talking about graduate school. Because you are right- undergrads don’t know about graduate school, but very many jobs require a masters degree. I went to an R1 school and worked in a lab an undergrad- and in the back of my mind was always thinking about graduate school. At PUI, particularly the lower ranking ones, I think it really is our responsibility to talk with students about real career options, which very likely include an MS these days. Otherwise, we are doing them a great disservice.
Close interaction with a small faculty who all know your name, especially at an elite research institution where this faculty is likely to be well-connected, can circumvent the career obstacles created by undergraduate specialization. Additionally, while interdisciplinary experience is increasingly valuable on a C.V.