There are many different reasons to pursue a graduate degree; to be qualified for your dream job, to learn more about a field of interest, or to change focus areas from your bachelor studies, just to name a few! Regardless of what reason you choose to pursue a graduate degree, I cannot stress how important it is to have a specific motivation to pursue your graduate degree!!
A question many people ask me, and one that I frequently ask myself, is why attend graduate school? There are many different reasons to pursue a graduate degree; to be qualified for your dream job, to learn more about a field of interest, or to change focus areas from your bachelor studies, just to name a few! Regardless of what reason you choose to pursue a graduate degree, I cannot stress how important it is to have a specific motivation to pursue your graduate degree!! Graduate school is extremely challenging both mentally and physically, so it is critical to know specifically why you will dedicate your whole self to obtaining an advanced degree.
For me personally, my motivation to pursue graduate school was a combination of all three of these things. Although I knew I had to work hard in my Chemistry courses, my passion for the subject and interest in a biotechnology career in high school drove me to study Chemistry (on the Biochemistry track) in college. I enjoyed Introductory Chemistry but when it came to Organic Chemistry, I realized for myself the challenge that came with the dreaded O.Chem. After pushing through a year of O. Chem, I continued my in-major course work with Physical and Inorganic Chemistry courses. These courses were no doubt academically challenging, but the greatest challenge for me was the loss of the spark of my interest in the subject. During the time when I felt I had lost my passion for chemistry, I took a genetics course and found my perspective was opened to the world of biology. The more biology courses I took, I realized that my passion was in the “Bio” side of Biochemistry; however, I was too far along in my undergraduate career to formally switch majors. Therefore, I applied to a Master’s program with the intention of making an academic pivot to engage in my newfound passion for biology.
In conjunction with finding this new passion in my academics, I had the opportunity to learn more about the biotechnology industry by interning at a large diagnostics company. In this role, I not only experienced biology research in the industry space, but also had the opportunity to network with individuals in the organization both with and without advanced degrees. Through my position and these career conversations, I found that my dream career would be as a member of a Research and Development team at a healthcare focused biotech company. As I met more and more employees in these positions, I found that to pursue my career of interest, a graduate degree would be necessary. To pivot academically as well as gain the qualifications for my dream job, I enrolled in a Masters of Science in Biotechnology program.
About half way through my Masters program, I began to think about my next step academically and professionally. Being exposed to so many graduate students on route to their doctorate in my Masters, I considered continuing my graduate school journey and applying for a PhD program. The summer after my first year in my Masters program, I had the opportunity to gain work experience at a start-up company and was really able to see the job opportunities for someone with a PhD. I realized then that I would love to combine my passion for scientific research with my leadership skills as a means of one day managing a Research and Development team. However, for this career path, I felt my independent research skills and management skills needed development. Therefore, I decided to apply for a second graduate degree by pursuing a doctorate in Cellular and Molecular Biology.
My motivation to pursue my graduate degrees has been academic, skillset, and career minded; however, this motivation differs for everyone! Grad school an extremely grueling but extremely rewarding process and I personally feel that one’s motivation is what carries them through long days of research followed by late nights of studying and reading academic papers. This is why I stress the importance of knowing your motivation before beginning your graduate program. Many see grad school as the opportunity to push off the real world; however, in my perspective, this is not the most effective motivation for committing to graduate education. So if you are asking yourself “Why Grad School?”, like I did, I encourage you to identify that specific motivation that will not only motivate you to begin graduate school, but to keep pushing forward when it gets tough.
Written by Paige Halas