Lessons From Grad School


My name is Alex Rister, and I am a second-time graduate student.  Most people look at me strangely when I make this confession, but I proudly embrace any stigma that comes along with being an eternal learner.

The first time I attended grad school was in 2007.  I earned my M.A. in English Literature from the University of North Florida.  I went to school full time; I took 3 or 4 classes at a time; I primarily studied and wrote a thesis on Irish Lit; and I finished my degree in a year and a half.

I decided to return to graduate school to pursue another Master’s degree… this time in Interpersonal Communication.  To my surprise, beginning graduate school again in 2012 has proven one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  My experience this time is completely different.  I am attending school part time while I work full time.  I am taking one class per semester.  I have no idea what my primary area of focus or study will be just yet.  I will take years to finish my degree.  Even though I’m only 6 graduate hours in, I’ve learned 3 important lessons from grad school… part two.

Lesson #1: I’ve grown up.

There is an enormous difference between my experiences in graduate school now as a woman pushing 30 and my experiences in graduate school as a girl in my early 20s.  While I student at UNF, I had a passion for what I was doing, but I had no idea what I was doing.  Now, I feel so much more control over my mind, my learning, my writing, and my dedication to my studies.  For example, we wrote our very first paper for my Interpersonal Communication class in early February.  I found myself reading and re-reading the articles we were to synthesize; emailing my instructor for feedback; writing and revising my ideas; and asking a trusted classmate for feedback.  I spent several days and over 12 hours on the short, 3-page assignment.  When I got to class, I overheard one of my fellow classmates say, “I wrote this paper today.  Yeah, I got it done in less than 2 hours.”  I had a flashback to my first graduate degree and saw the difference between my two grad school experiences.  When I was this fellow classmates’ age, I probably spent 2 hours on my assignments just as she had.  Baffled at the shift, I wondered what changed in me.  I realized… I had grown up.  I took my work more seriously.  I valued my learning experiences more deeply.  My mature self enjoys school more than my young self ever could, and my mature self definitely puts more work into school than I ever would have six years ago.


Lesson #2: I am open to new things.

As a full time student at UNF, my schedule revolved around my coursework.  This time, I have to take classes around my full time work schedule.  I also have other obligations such as volunteering and meetings, so I can only take classes on specific evenings.  Because of my busy life, I am at the mercy of the School of Communication’s graduate course schedule.  I’ve taken classes I have no interest in; for example, in Fall 2012, I enrolled in Legal and Ethical Issues in Communication.  I’d never taken a law class and had zero interest in boring legal documents.  It turns out, I found the First Amendment and its historical cases fascinating, and I know more about my individual rights than I ever would otherwise.  In the future, I foresee additional courses that cause me to yawn (Health Communication) or to shiver in terror (Statistics), but I have a feeling these classes will also surprise me in positive ways.

Lesson #3: I am getting more involved in my academic community.

At UNF, my only extracurricular activity on campus was my one semester as a Graduate Teaching Assistant.  At UCF, I’ve tried to become as involved as possible in my academic community.  While research assistantships are only possible for full time students, I filled out an application in the hopes that faculty will ask me to help with their long-term research.  I’ve reached out to a former professor to collaborate on an exciting project that could turn into multiple academic articles.  I’ve communicated with the Writing Center’s coordinator to see if I could become a volunteer peer reviewer.  On-campus workshops, conferences, and forums have also become more appealing, and I’m planning to attend three in April.  I’ve really turned into a supernerd!

While I continue on my graduate school journey, I hope to make meaningful connections with faculty and fellow classmates; to push myself by taking classes and learning about things that challenge me; and to find several areas of interest for my thesis and possible conference papers.  Keep me in your thoughts during the next 6 weeks as I write a major 17-page research paper using qualitative research methods for the very first time!

Are you a repeat graduate student?  What are three lessons you’ve learned as a second-time M.A. seeker?


3 thoughts on “Lessons From Grad School

  1. Hey Alex,

    I had this post of yours bookmarked in my reader for later reply and realized I should at least show my support as a fellow second grad degree student. My situation is a bit different though, as are our respective education systems we have been through. I don’t really have much to offer in terms of what I learned from my second time around, as I was always both working and studying.

    I did grow tired of classes and the social dynamics at the end. But now that I have been cut off from a campus for more than a year I am already contemplating finding a way to make pursuing a postgrad degree and freelancing work. It’s the stream I miss, the staying in touch with academic discourse (or even on top of it).


      • Like I said, it’s a bit different in my case. I am finished with institutional learning for the time being, but pondering going back to enroll for a PHD on the side.

        If you’re curious, I made the academic path I took available online in my CV http://work.jochmann.me#cv Looks like we have some things in common besides our non-traditional choice of institutional education.

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