The Importance of Good Advising: Part 2

Getting to Grad School

As an undergraduate, I first experienced the extent to which mathematics could be broadly applied to “real world” problems, and recognized the potential to make substantive change. I set my sights on a job in industry, with vague hopes and aspirations as to what such a thing might look like. I had been applying to summer programs that would potentially expose me to application areas every.single.year. with no luck.

Come April of my junior year, another round of rejection letters once again rolled in, and I found myself discussing the matter with a professor who had become a close mentor. Likely sensing my frustration, she brought up the subject of me looking into graduate school, knowing it would provide me with the exposure I was seeking.

I can’t afford that, I don’t want to take on the debt involved.

That was my perspective. I have no doubt that this exact fear is shared by many of my generation who have witnessed the crippling effects of the financial recession on their parents. The takeaway was that debt was to be avoided at all costs.

You know they’ll pay for it, right?

>Who'll pay for it? You see my luck with funding..

No, graduate students in STEM fields often have their entire degrees paid for, including a stipend. It’s like… how PhD’s work.

>... What?

How was I only finding out about this after three years of education?

Why didn’t they lead with this on my first day of school?

Would that not have changed how I thought about the coursework I was taking? Why was this option, this opportunity only entering my realm of awareness now? This late in the game, with graduation around the corner.

THIS IS A SYSTEMIC PROBLEM.

In many ways I have always been an ideal candidate for graduate school. Endlessly curious from a young age, I have often spent my “free time” in the pursuit of more knowledge. In every type of science.

The opportunity to spend several years developing intellectual maturity by truly delving deep into a subject was perfect for someone who spent so much time developing a shallow but expansive knowledge-base.

The fact that someone like myself was unaware of this opportunity (despite so much researching and time spent in office hours), until practically months before applications began, is a problem.

THIS IS NOT HOW OUR HIGHER INSTITUTIONS SHOULD BE FUNCTIONING.

I went to a small school, where I was able to get a lot of individualized attention when I needed it. I was taking the right steps and I still can attribute almost all of where I am to a little luck and being in the right place at the right time. I course-corrected and started planning for graduate school immediately. There was no time to dwell on all the fellowships, grants, and applications I had already missed. (Though, apparently, deadlines aren’t always deadlines… but… more on that in a future post).

In graduate school, I spent a lot of energy passionately talking with any and every undergraduate about the opportunities available to them, and what they could be doing earlier on.

I needed to tell everybody about the opportunities I missed. I still do not feel like I have made any substantive impact in that regard.

Only one person (that I am aware of) has gone to graduate school because they heard about the whole “it can be free” thing from me. To me, this is a colossal failure in communication and I want to begin to remedy it.

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Michael Pilosov
An (applied) mathematician on a mission. Denver, CO.

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