What I Took Away From The 2018 California Forum For Diversity In Graduate Education
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What I Took Away From The 2018 California Forum For Diversity In Graduate Education

If you're a psychology major and interested in getting a PhD, this one's for you.

What I Took Away From The 2018 California Forum For Diversity In Graduate Education
Jasminder Bains

Last weekend, I had the great privilege to attend The California Forum for Diversity in Graduate Education at the University of the Pacific in sunny Stockton, CA.

I learned a lot of things about grad school there and decided it was too good to keep to myself so I'm going to share the key pieces of advice and knowledge I got while I was there. Disclaimer: This post focuses a bit more on PhDs in Psychology since my ultimate goal is to get a PhD in Clinical Psychology and that's what I was paying the most attention to at the panel.

1. The GRE matters, but it isn't everything.

Multiple panelists and a few recruiters echoed this sentiment to me. A strong GRE score is important but it won't make your application any more than a weak GRE score will break your application. Committees look at grad school applications holistically so there are other factors they look at too that are equally, if not more, important.

2. Use as few loans as possible.

Grad school is expensive, I think we all know that, but PhD programs are ripe for funding. There are many ways to pay for a graduate degree as you will soon find out.

Fellowships: The new term for scholarships. You have extramural (or external) fellowships that can come from any private organization outside the university and internal fellowships that come directly from the university. A few external fellowships that were name-dropped at the panel include NSF and the Ford Foundation.

Financial aid: Refers only to loans now.

Department funding: A block of money distributed to students in the corresponding program.

Loan forgiveness: This only applies to consumer loans (student loans are NEVER forgiven,) but you can get your loans waived by working long enough.

Grad Student Researcher: You get paid for working in a faculty mentor's lab.

Grad Assistant/Instructor: Think of this is as a paid teacher's assistant position except you may even end up teaching a class in this role.

If you don't know where to start searching for money, you're in luck because I picked up a few free resources. Happy reading!

Peterson's Graduate School Scholarship Search

Grad School.com's Financial Advice

NAGPS Funding Graduate Education Factsheet

Also, fun fact, all deferred undergraduate and graduate loans begin 6 months after you obtain your degree.

3. We all deserve to be in grad school even if we don't always feel like it.

Given the name of the panel, diversity came up a lot. African Americans and Native Americans are strongly underrepresented in grad school, among other minority groups as well of course. Microaggressions can occur and impostor syndrome can take hold even in people who ostensibly fit in. But if you want to pursue further education after your undergraduate career, you deserve to pursue further education.

We all have a place at the table because our voices really do matter especially when they're systematically silenced in other parts of society. Our ideas need to be heard that much more. That said, you're not alone if you feel like you got into grad school on accident. In one of the workshops I attended, there was a panel of four grad students who gave us some real talk on how to succeed in grad school. All of them felt like an impostor at one point, but they worked or were working through it

4. Balance is key.

We need to stop the tired trope of the college/grad student surviving on instant noodles and 4 hours of sleep. Work-life balance matters in every part of life and, yes, that includes grad school. All of the grad students I listened to emphasized how important it's to make time for self-care, socializing, exercising, etc. You won't have an enjoyable (or healthy) experience at all if you try to delve completely into your research.

5. What's a statement of purpose? And a personal history statement?

A statement of purpose is a document that outlines your academic and professional experiences, interests, and goals. It's NOT your resume written in a narrative style. The speaker described it as your "academic origin story," but don't go into anything before your undergraduate career unless it's really unique and relevant. The length varies from program to program, but you'll generally be answering questions like when and how you became interested in your prospective field of study, what activities and experiences prepared you for grad school, why grad school's the next logical step in your career, why the grad program you're applying to, and what your long term plans and career goals are.

It's best not to start by writing the introduction even though it's tempting. Start with your experience so you know what you're talking about and come back to the intro later. The two tried-and-true introduction styles are the "hook" and the "straightforward" approach. Self-explanatory and you can Google some for ideas!

The personal history statement is more about you as a person. It's not always required in a grad school application and the length may vary as well. Sometimes it's called a diversity statement, but generally you'll be discussing how your background led you to pursue this graduate degree, what challenges you've faced that are relevant to your academic path (these can be social, educational, familial, economic, cultural, etc.,) how you're contributing to the diversity of thought in your field, and how you'll be serving underrepresented groups with your degree.

I also have some resources with more advice and tips on how to write these. Check them out below!

"The A+ Graduate Admission Essay" by Karen Kelsky (Copy paste it in Google and the Word doc should be the first entry)

"Graduate Admissions Essays" by Donald Asher (The Kindle version of this book is $5 or you can try your local library)

6. Applying to grad school is kind of like applying for a job.

Some graduate schools interview prospective students so you want to do your homework on your program, the committee reviewing your application, the research interests of the faculty there, etc.

I was told that when you search for a grad school, you do it in the reverse order of looking for a college, so it looks like this:

Faculty/research --> Grad program --> Institution

7. Who you know matters.

Not only do you want to be networking with the faculty at your own university, because they'll be writing ALL of your letters of recommendation most likely, you want to get in contact with the people sitting on the committee that are going to review your application. Mind you, I'm not suggesting you start emailing every faculty member you can reach a year in advance. That will irritate them and they're likely very busy. Closer to when you apply, track down their contact info and ask them questions about the program. It's always good to show interest because you look passionate (just don't ask any questions you can find out yourself!) and if you manage to set up a Skype interview or meet them in person, your application now has a face to your name.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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