Why go to grad school?

Many college students are faced with one of the most difficult decisions of their lives around junior or senior year: to go to graduate school or to not go to graduate school?

Four Texas State graduate students spoke to a room of undergraduates looking for advice about this confusing time and complicated decision.

Above (left to right): Carly Smith, Dale Blasingame, Josh Shepherd, and Mairin Heard

Mairin Heard, graduate and publicist for Paper Thin Media, said that she simply was not mentally prepared to be finished with school.

“I wasn’t that burned out from my undergrad, and I wanted to keep learning. I was interested in new media and took Cindy Royal’s undergrad graphic design course,” said Heard.
Carly Smith came to some daunting realizations heading out of her undergraduate years.
“As I was nearing graduation, I felt like nothing set me apart from everyone else graduating. I had several PR internships, but nothing really set me apart. Dara [Quackenbush’s] senior campaigns class was the first time I was introduced to new media. There was no way to cram it all into one semester. I decided the best way to figure out how to use it all was to join the graduate program,” Smith said.
For Heard and Smith, the choice was clear to go straight into a master’s program. For others, it was a decision that took time.
Dale Blasingame threw himself into the workforce after college. He always knew that he would want to go back eventually, but it wasn’t until after nine years in television and two Emmy’s later that he decided to aim for a career change.
“Two or three years ago, I was so burned out that it was getting unhealthy. My contract was up at same time that my lease was up, the application deadline was the same week, so I took it as a sign and I quit my job,” Blasingame said.
Josh Shepherd, graduate, spent 10 years in television and network news before beginning his graduate program in 2009. After an unfortunate layoff, he took his contacts and began a popular podcast before being contacted by Cindy Royal, mass communications professor.
“Cindy asked me what the hell I was doing,” Shepherd said.
Royal knew he was a good candidate for the graduate program.
“Josh interviewed my neighbor, who was a musician, and I told him it was a great interview. He’s my TA now,” Royal said.
All of these students have different reasons for being in the graduate school, but they all give similar advice for those looking into it: Set yourself apart, get an online presence, network, get your name out there, and absorb as much information as possible.

“Constantly brand yourself online. The first thing [employers] are going to do is Google you and see what you are doing. Something I always try to teach to musicians that we work with is to make a solid online presence. Blog, Twitter, Facebook, whatever…you need to have a presence,” Heard said.

Blasingame said that your online presence should be professional.
“The first thing you should do when applying for jobs is to delete all your pictures from Facebook. It is literally the first thing we look at,” Blasingame said.
When it comes to networking, a lot of students don’t understand the concept.
“Learn how to network. It is important to continuously network with people in your field. When I started undergrad I didn’t understand- I thought it was what you know, not who you know,” Heard said.
Shepherd explained that our generation is lucky because new media is literally new. Generation Y is the one that employers will look toward to brand themselves online.
“There are no rules, no one really knows how it all works. It’s fun to be part of a start up where people are still trying to figure it out,” Shepherd said.
“I sent Mark Briggs a tweet, author of Journalism 2.0 and asked him how TV stations could better use Twitter. He responded with, ‘Good question, I don’t know,’” Blasingame said.
For those who do decide to pursue a graduate degree, one piece of advice that was unanimous across the board of panelists was to do something at the same time as your studies. Experience is, after all, half the battle.
“Don’t go to grad school and stick to the books. You have to be doing something at the same time or else you’re just walking backwards,” Heard said. “I couldn’t have gotten this job if I was just sitting, reading and writing.”
Smith left us with one final piece of advice.
“A lot of people told us to wait and go get experience. Grad school has opened up even more opportunities that we wouldn’t have been exposed to had we not gone. It could lead to a full-time job before you even graduate,” Smith said.
In the end, it all depends on your career goals. It is important to do your research, and to figure out what you want the outcome to be.

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