Tag Archives: phd

Decisions, Decisions


By Nicole Hosette

Many post-grads make plans to move somewhere new after college. They move back in with their parents, take a job in a new place, or simply decide to take up residence somewhere fresh. In my case, the decision to move from Iowa to the Boston area took months to make, and I didn’t make it alone.

I mentioned in a previous post that I recently moved to Massachusetts with my boyfriend, Peter. We both graduated in May. He knew he wanted to get his PhD in physics, while I knew I didn’t want to go to grad school (at least right away). And after being together for four years, we knew we wanted to be somewhere new together. So it made sense that I would follow him wherever he went to school.

In December of last year, he started applying for grad school. It was a crazy, stressful time for him, as it meant filling out forms, writing essays, and securing letters of recommendation on top of his heavy course load. He applied to nearly ten schools, both Ivy League and state universities.

He got into his safety schools, and to his relief, most of his top picks as well.

In the end, the decision came down to two schools, University of Chicago, or Harvard. So we made a massive pro/con list and took everything we could think of into account – locations, cost of living, family factors, crime, job opportunities for me, and each school’s respective physics program.

For a month, he changed his mind at least every other day. I was pulling for Chicago from the beginning – I had spent a lot of time there, both visiting and inhabiting, so I knew the city’s offerings and limitations. I knew that my job prospects would be decent, and that I already loved living there. I knew it would be cheaper to live there and that I would be able to easily make the three hour drive back to Iowa to see my family and friends. But I also knew that Chicago would be my ideal place to “settle,” and I didn’t want to settle yet.

Eventually Peter made his decision, and he wanted to go to Harvard. The physics program would give him more opportunities. And, as he admits, he is a kind of nomad at heart, so he was getting restless in the Midwest. He already knew what Chicago had to offer and wanted a place with completely new opportunities.

In time, he convinced me that Massachusetts was right for us. We made budgets to make sure we could live off of his grad-student stipend in case my job search went badly. We took note of all of the cultural offerings of Boston (which excited the historian in me). I knew I wouldn’t be unhappy there, and I knew he would regret it if we didn’t go. So we went.

Our relocation wasn’t easy, but so far I don’t regret it. I hate that most of our friends are still together in Iowa City while I’m here basically alone. But I know that time will fix that. I miss having my car, but I like that I can walk practically anywhere I need to go. I absolutely love all of the things to do in my new place, and all of the new things I can try.

Be warned: even if you’re ready for it, making a move this huge will probably be hard. And, if you’re anywhere near as indecisive as I am, the decision will be just as difficult. But you’re a post-grad now – in theory, you have tons of opportunities ahead of you, even if the job market seems to disagree.

Maybe that’s me being the optimist, but for now, I’m going to take advantage of the fact that I haven’t had that beaten out of me yet.

Post-grad Bugaboos


This article was written by guest writer, KB.

As I approach a new semester, I’m usually bedeviled by the consternation regarding the difficulty of new classes and the imminent cessation of sentience outside work and school (if you’re confused by the precocious, albeit ridiculous, utilization of advanced “lexicon,” I’m studying for my GRE). At this point, however, senior year seems tantamount to child’s play. It’s no longer a question of finding my academic niche or proving myself competent in the mathematics department. With a proclivity for worrying about the future, the most pressing trepidations are related to what’s going to happen subsequent to my receiving a bachelor’s degree.

I know what would ideally happen. I’d get into the graduate school of my choice, get my PhD in mathematics, and someday start my career as a professor at a reputable university.

Since I’m not ignorant to the less-than-ideal workings of the real world, I can’t ignore my post-grad bugaboos.

Bugaboo: (noun) an object of fear.

Bugaboo #1: Failing the GRE

Yes, I know technically, you can’t fail the GRE. That won’t stop me from feeling like a failure if my score is insufficient for getting me to where I want to go. There are three sections of the GRE, much like the SAT: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. Since GRE scores are required by the majority of graduate schools, if you’re considering a master’s or doctoral program, GRE test prep is probably in your future. My advice is to take it slow, and start studying what seems like way too early.

Besides going through life as my normal information-sponge self, I’ve focused on two areas to prepare for the exam. A major portion of the Verbal section requires having a “college-level vocabulary” so, for the past month, I’ve been studying about 500 words a week from the reputable Barron’s GRE word list. From what I hear from other test takers, brute force memorization is the easiest and most effective strategy. You’ll need to recall definitions for the test, but likely never need to use these words again.

The most important targeted study area is the math subject test, which is separate from the general GRE. Four years of college math in one test;
pretty exciting, I know. Coming from a state school where a high GPA doesn’t hold the same weight as a high GPA from an Ivy League school, I’m feeling a lot of pressure to perform well on this exam and prove I know my stuff.

Bugaboo #2: Rejection letters

Feeling like I’ve worked very hard during my four years of college and being told that it wasn’t good enough: I imagine that would be a depressing experience. No one likes rejection, which is why I’m trying not to set my heart on one specific graduate school. Sometimes the key to happiness is
low expectations.

Bugaboo #3: Financial qualms

No matter what your post graduate plans are, we’re all living in the same economy with the same worries about our financial futures. With plans
to go straight to graduate school, I had my concerns about not entering the job market soon enough. It turns out the only expensive part of graduate school will be the application fees. As is true for most graduate programs in academia, mathematics PhD students are guaranteed financial support for at least five years as long as they remain in good academic standing and teach one or two undergraduate classes. These teaching assistantships provide on average a full waiver of tuition and a very generous living stipend, in most cases anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000. Therefore, putting myself through graduate school won’t be the kind of financial burden I imagined.

Bugaboo #4: It’s never going to end

With qualifying exams, graduate classes, dissertations, and oral exams, the pursuit of my PhD seems daunting to say the least. After 17 long
years in the American education system, it is none too comforting to know at least another five lie ahead of me. I know I’ll leave graduate school with some kind of PhD: Permanent Head Damage.

What are your postgrad bugaboos?

Post-grad on the Move


By Nicole Hosette

I cried at my graduation. The ceremony was horrible – last year the school sprung for Tom Brokaw as a speaker, but this year we were stuck with an English professor who seemed to have simply adjusted one of his class lectures for his speech. There was a brief moment of excitement when a student, with a flower in his hair, ran through the seated graduates and threw rolls of toilet paper before eventually being tackled by security, tased, and arrested. Besides that, the ceremony consisted of two hours of 2,000 students hearing their names called, walking across the stage, and shaking the hand of some University official. I texted my mom throughout most of it.

I felt silly for crying when I hugged my parents after the ceremony was over. But in retrospect, I would have felt worse for not crying. My four years at the University of Iowa were exactly what I wanted them to be.

Knowing that my years of formal education are over, and that for the first time in 18 years I won’t be going back to school this August, is breaking my heart.

But I’m sure most post-grads in my situation feel the same way.

Back in March, when I started making my first major post-graduation plans, I didn’t quite expect I’d feel like this – instead I was excited about all of the possibilities that came with graduation. At that time, my boyfriend and I were sitting down and discussing where he wanted to go to grad school, which equated to where we wanted to live for the next 4+ years while he worked towards his PhD. I had no plans of going to grad school – I graduated with a BA in Journalism and American Studies, and I didn’t think the general career path I was aiming for required that extra bit of schooling. I was already looking at a good bit of student debt and didn’t see the point in adding more if I didn’t have to. And so I decided I would just go with him.

The decision to move to Massachusetts didn’t come easy (more on that in a later post). But he had gotten into Harvard and really liked the work they were doing there in his field. He was also very interested in the idea of moving to a new place while we had the chance, and at the time, I agreed with him. You have to admit, there is something romantically appealing about picking up and moving halfway across the country just because you can.

So this past month has been full of packing, making preparations, and spending as much time with friends as possible. Finally, last week, we made the move. It was a mess – so many things went wrong, and I found myself wishing I was still in Iowa. But now we are set up in Massachusetts, in a great community 20 minutes from downtown Boston, and I have done my best to forget my horrible first impression of this city.

I miss my friends, my family, the Midwest landscape, my favorite Iowa City bar, and having my own vehicle. But this is what life after college is supposed to be – new experiences.

So this is my situation as a post-grad; trying to adjust to a new place, setting up an apartment, looking for a job, and making new friends. It’s exciting and terrifying. But I really am looking forward to figuring it all out.

%d bloggers like this: