Unpacking Grad School: How Different is it From Undergrad? Told by the Podcast, “This is Grad School”

Up until this year, the concept of grad school has always seemed very foreign to me. I have always heard people talk about grad school and getting their masters or PhD, but I had no idea what actual grad school looked like or consisted of. This semester, I have had the opportunity to work in a research lab through the chemistry department, meaning that I spend LOTS of time with the chemistry grad students. In fact, I am the only undergrad in this lab, so i pretty much get treated as if I am a grad student. This experience has given me lots of insight into what life after college looks like and what grad school actually is, but only from a chemist’s perspective.. However, with grad school being our topic of the week, I decided to do more digging, so I listened to the podcast, This is Grad School. This podcast, run by two social psychology PhD students, focuses on issues relating to graduate students and discussing the shared experiences that many of these students encounter. One of the hosts opened the podcast by saying, “Going to grad school is like putting on an old pair of jeans. They may be your favorite, but it definitely takes some time to break them in.” I learned that unlike undergrad, graduate school is very open-ended. The group that attends is typically more diverse, with people of all ages from all different backgrounds and walks of life. What I found to be extremely interesting about graduate school that this podcast highlighted was the idea of the cohort. Graduate classes are obviously much smaller than undergraduate classes, but what really sets the group apart is the close knit friendship formed between members of each class. The hosts repeatedly stated how important it is to become friends with members of your cohort because these are the people that will get you through. Unlike undergrad, you have a lot more people in the same boat as you to lean on, making this journey very different from the previous one. I could barely keep count of the number of times that the hosts advised students to depend on each other. The concept of dependence upon classmates is quite uncommon in undergrad, and something that I never knew about grad school.

The podcast then began to talk about the support that grad students receive outside of their cohort. It seemed as if everyone in grad school (students, faculty, and staff) wants students to succeed. Professors do not try to weed you out or cause you to fail. This is starkly contrasted to the undergrad experience (especially that portrayed in popular media), where weed out classes do exist and some tests are made to fail. Overall, the hosts made grad school seem like a very warm and welcoming environment. However, the grad students I have seen here at UA and other media regarding grad school (specifically med school) do not translate this message. In fact, other media I have consumed makes grad school seem miserable, as if it is just years of tedious work to eventually get a degree that serves merely as a qualification for a “more important job”. In the podcast, the hosts did talk about the stresses of grad school, referring to this time as “a marathon rather than a sprint.” One takeaway that I took from this podcast was that unlike in undergrad, where the work and classes end once the semester is over, the work in grad school does not end until graduation. Projects are continuous and relationships with classmates and professors remain constant throughout your entire duration of schooling.

Overall, this podcast made graduate school seem like a very positive experience. Yes, there are tough days, but most of the time you spend devoted top learning a subject that you really love. Since I am only an undergrad, i do not feel as if I can accurately judge how true this is, but I can say that this representation is very different from others I have seen. The dialogue in this podcast definitely opposes that of George O’Malley in Grey’s Anatomy, you know his famous quote, “Who else in here feels like they have no idea what they’re doing?”. In conclusion, after listening to this podcast, I want to go get my PhD. However, I am excited to continue to investigate the other representations of this topic in the media to see if I hold true to this desire. 

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