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Graduate school: What am I doing here???

I look up from my laptop screen to see my mom taking a photo of me. “MOM!” I scream at her.

“What honey? It’s funny that you are working on homework in the ER, and this really needs to be documented.”

That was not the first and not the last moment I asked myself, “What am I doing here?” Well, okay, I knew why I was in the emergency room. I had tripped over a pothole while going for a run and got a hematoma (essentially internal bleeding) on my leg that needed to get checked out. During the long wait at the hospital, I found myself laying on a hospital bed with a leg injury and needing to prep for a graduate school group project meeting I had later that night. So, essentially, I knew why I was in the ER, but I found myself questioning yet again why I decided to go back to graduate school. Why was I putting myself through the mental and, apparently, sometimes physical, stress of pursuing a second degree? 

Since I was a senior in college, I knew I wanted to work in a nonprofit setting. I am currently employed at an awesome nonprofit working full-time, and I had known early on that I wanted to take my learning and skill set to the next level by pursing a part-time Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Saint Thomas. Below, I have curated a list that I am hoping may help some of you with your decision about pursuing graduate school. It is also a document I plan to reflect on the next time I find myself in the ER doing homework:

I have expanded skills I did not previously have…

For my first summer class, I decided it would be smart to take my very first accounting class. That summer was largely spent crying over Excel spreadsheets and forcing myself to take breaks walking outside and eating ice cream bars. On these strolls, I found myself asking internally what I was doing at graduate school and questioning if I had made the right choice. The wonderful news is that I did indeed pass this first accounting course! When I was recently promoted to a manager position, I realized the importance of  needing to understand how to budget and use various accounting methods. So, while that summer was tortuous to say the least, I was able to eat a delightful amount of ice cream, and I became knowledgeable about an important aspect of the nonprofit sector that I had never understood before sticking out that first class of grad school.

… and I immediately get to use those skills at work. 

I took a negotiations class this past semester and let me tell you, it was super nerve-wracking. As a woman, I feel like I have been taught that it’s best not to ask for more. I found myself once again asking why I was in grad school. During the class, however, I learned so much about evaluating both parties’ sides and looking at the argument more as a conversation about making both sides happier rather than looking at it as a fight. I was also able to share my fears about being a female negotiator with my female peers in class. – this helped calm my nerves moving forward to applying these skills at work. While I was in the class, I oversaw choosing a new webinar software company for my organization. Once I decided on a new webinar software, I was able to use what I learned in class to negotiate the price down and receive a shorter contract to make it more affordable and useful for my organization’s particular needs. Being able to immediately apply what I learned in class to my real-life work makes it possible to retain key lessons and tools, thus making me a more valuable employee.

It looks great on my resume and at my family reunions.

You know when you are at those family reunions and everyone is asking you what you are doing with your life now that you graduated from college and you see their eyes glaze over as you start talking passionately about your job? Pro tip: sign up for graduate school and the simple mentioning of it and will have your family members’ eyes lit up. People love to hear about the trial and tribulations of being in graduate school – they seem to eat this subject matter up! Probably more important to mention, though, is that my supervisors at my work and other colleagues in my various networks are impressed. Choosing to pursue graduate school shows that I am passionate about achieving excellence in my work, and that I am committed to moving upward in my career.

I like how I feel in graduate school.

When I walked into my very first graduate class, one about leadership and self-development, I was late and sweaty because I had biked on West River Parkway (those hills along the Mississippi are rough!). I once again found myself questioning why the heck I had decided to go to graduate school. By the end of the semester, I walked out with an A, a better understanding of myself, and feeling rejuvenated about my career path in the nonprofit sector. I realize I have become a more mature, strategic, thoughtful, organized, and creative individual through graduate school. I like how accomplished I feel after finishing a class and moving forward in my degree with more applicable knowledge under my belt. 

While I still question why I am in graduate school from time to time, writing this blog post has helped me better understand why exactly I am here and hopefully this can be helpful for you, too, if grad school is something you have been considering or if you have already started like me and sometimes find yourself similarly questioning your pursuit. I would love to hear other folks’ thoughts: If you are not in graduate school, what is holding you back? Have you ever tripped over a pothole? Are you currently in a graduate program? If so, what have you found helpful for getting you through graduate school? 


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