Degree In Sight

Students share their favorite aspects of life in academe.

Nights and weekends spent in the lab, absentee advisors, living on a microscopic budget. It's easy to list the downsides of grad school. But don't let those gripes eclipse the great aspects of the experience.

"Taking time to remember what you love about grad school also is key to making it through in one piece," says Frances Victory, a grad student at the City University of New York. "Sometimes you have to turn your brain off and remember you're a person with other things going on besides a dissertation, conference abstract, publication deadline or papers to grade."

To help you get in touch with your positive side, gradPSYCH asked students and recent grads to share their thoughts on the best parts of grad school. Here are the upsides they enjoy:

"Dorking out" on psychology

As a grad student, you get to spend all day discussing ideas and doing research with some of the brightest people around, says Tara Anne McKloseky, a biopsychology grad student at Hunter College. "You will discover new things about your field and meet people just as enthusiastic about subjects you feel no one else gets but you, up until this point," she says. Plus, you can conduct experiments to answer some of those questions you've been pondering ever since Psych 101.

Getting paid to learn is a rare opportunity, adds Ariane Ling, a counseling psychology student at New York University. "I often hear my friends complain about their jobs, and while they do not realize how much work is involved at the graduate level, I feel fortunate that I don't ‘hate' what I do."

Every day is different

If you hate monotony, grad school is the place for you, says Todd Solomon, an applied psychology grad student at NYU. "My happiest semesters were when I was taking classes, teaching, seeing patients and doing research. I was incredibly busy, but I never got bored and the time flew by," he says. Mixing things up can also protect against burnout.

Learning new skills

Remember the exhilaration of learning to ride a bike without training wheels? Now you get a similar feeling learning how to use an fMRI machine, performing neuropsychological assessments or helping a client work through a traumatic memory, says Victory. Plus, these abilities will give you a leg up in the real world.

"Knowing that the skills I'm learning will get me ahead in the job market is a great feeling," says Victory.

Helping other people

The great thing about psychology is that whether you're in a research or clinical program, you're doing something good for humanity. So after tough days in the lab or therapy room, remember that what you do really matters, suggests Shonda Lackey, PhD, who graduated from St. John's University's clinical psychology program in 2012. "What I've enjoyed most is helping the students and patients I've worked with achieve their goals," adds Lackey. "And helping them gain the skills and self-confidence to create better lives for themselves has helped me grow, too."

You develop a posse

When you entered your grad program, you became part of a small, elite club of matriculating grad students. Often, these cohorts become your best friends, says Marina Mazur, a clinical psychology doctoral student at Columbia University. "It's helpful to have people around you who are warm and accepting, and know intimately what you are struggling with on a daily basis," she says. So enjoy having like-minded people around you and soak up as much knowledge and support from them as you can. "These are people with whom I feel safe and comfortable and whom I will be friends with for the rest of my life," Mazur says.

Alice G. Walton, PhD, is a writer in New York City.

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