Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Professors offer perspective on graduate school

This is the third in a series of posts about the recent Graduate School Workshop held in the library at Reinhardt College.

Dr. William DeAngelis, Dean of the School of Math and Science and Professor of Psychology, has degrees in both Psychology and Law, so he was able to speak with authority on both academic graduate school and law school. He urged students to approach the search for the right program the way they approach life, specifically the dating process. You don't run off and marry the first person you meet. You take the time to get to know people and see with whom you're compatible. Similarly, take the time to research different schools and programs and find the one that's the best fit for you. "What kind of program do you want to marry yourself to for the next couple of years?" he quipped. "Graduate schools vary quite a bit. You have to look at the data and see what they want."

For example, the graduate program in Psychology is very competitive, with a heavy emphasis on research. Dr. DeAngelis said the school only accepts nine people a year, and 77% of students in the program have presented at least one paper at a national or state convention. If that's not you, you don't have to give up hope (or stop rooting for the Bulldogs). Look at other schools, maybe some which don't emphasize research quite so heavily.

Dr. DeAngelis recommended the book Getting In, published by the American Psychological Association, which details different graduate programs in Psychology and how to match your qualifications to the programs. (We have two copies of this book in the library. One is a circulating copy, and one is in Reference. The call number is BF80.7.U6 G47 2007).

Law school, Dr. DeAngelis said, is extremely competitive, and they're not just looking for students with Pre-Law degrees.

"They are looking for really good students who can read and write well and express themselves," Dr. DeAngelis said, naming English, History and Psychology majors as good law school candidates. Again, research the programs, look at the Web sites, and be realistic about your chances. The LSAT is required for most programs.

Dr. Kevin Crawford, Assistant Professor of English and Theatre, offered his take. Students applying for graduate school in this day and age have an advantage over their forebears. "There is so much information out there now...for the potential grad student who plans ahead." Net-savvy students can visit any program's Web site and learn details about the program's requirements and who's filling the slots, not to mention information about the school itself and the professors. Research can potentially yield ways to fund your academic pursuits. Look for programs which offer teaching assistantships and fellowships, and apply for them.

Dr. Crawford emphasized letters of recommendation. Professors get requests for letters from students they barely know. To have a recommendation letter which stands out, cultivate a good relationship with your professors. Find someone who knows you well, who can go beyond a mere listing of your accomplishments and say something personal, tell why you stand out.

Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Irma Santoro used to review graduate applications in her previous position as Director of Academic Services for graduate students in the School of Biology at Georgia Tech. Before you go to graduate school, she advised, have some idea of what you want to do with your degree. That is important not only in choosing which program will best prepare you, but will help you when writing the cover letter for your application. Talk about your past--your experience--and your future.

Dr. Santoro said many schools use GRE scores as a cutoff when evaluating applicants. Some schools value a high GPA more than others do, as it's hard to compare grades from different schools, but they do look at it as a long-term indicator of how well you will perform your job as a student. Usually programs look at your junior and senior grades. Recommendation letters are highly considered, and Dr. Santoro echoed Dr. Crawford's advice: form letters aren't very good. You want a recommendation letter that's personal.

Dr. Santoro advised talking to current graduate students to find out what their programs are like, and what the program is looking for in an applicant. Talk to the professors, too. "In my field, many students go to grad school already knowing who they're going to work for," she said. If a professor wants you to assist her, she may pull for you with the department to get you accepted!

Come back Friday for the THRILLING conclusion of the series (and of course one close to this blogger's heart): Karen Preslock speaks about what your LIBRARY can do for you in preparation for graduate school.

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