So You Want to go to Grad School?
At every PLEN seminar, one of the questions that panelists and mentors always expect is the question of graduate schools: when is the best time to go? Where is the best place to go? What qualities make a good graduate program? How do I pay for it? With these questions and concerns in mind, the PLEN Alumnae Network partnered with the Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) at George Washington University and Novo Nordisk to present So You Want to go to Grad School, a panel and discussion on graduate school opportunities.
The panel featured PLEN alumnae and George Washington University alumni who attended a variety of graduate schools offered by George Washington University. Naomi Senkeeto, PLEN alumna and member of the PLEN Board of Directors, completed the Master’s of Public Policy Analysis program at the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy & Public Administration. She is currently the Managing Director of Policy at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, where she works extensively on health care policy. Gary Nordlinger is a professor and alumnus of the George Washington University School of Law, so he brought a wealth of knowledge to the audience about law school and legal careers. Pam Yuen, a PLEN alumna and frequent PLEN speaker, received a Master’s of Political Science, Strategic Public Relations, and Campaign Strategy from GSPM, and now applies the knowledge she learned there to her role as the Government Relations Coordinator at AAUW. The final PLEN alumna on the panel was Elizabeth Thompson, who has a Master’s of English degree from Columbian College of the Arts and Sciences at George Washington University, and is now the Event Coordinator for the Office of Institutional Advancement at the Lab School of Washington. Rounding out the panel was Chris Rotella, who received his MBA from the George Washington University School of Business, and is now the Director of Development for GSPM.
Nancy Bocskor, President of the Nancy Bocskor Company and professor at GSPM as well as one of the 2017 PLEN Mentor Award honorees, welcomed the audience of PLEN alumnae and young professionals by discussing one of the major themes of every PLEN event: there are many different paths that you can take to achieve your goals. Bocskor also highlighted the importance of bringing in different perspectives to the work that you do. “I’m always delighted to meet women who are STEM majors, who are majoring in journalism, or foreign affairs,” because successful policy leadership means including diverse perspectives and ways of thinking.
Bocskor also noted that whenever she gets questions about graduate schools, she asks about passions. “Students are always asking me, ‘what should I do what I graduate from school?’” she explained, “and I always say, tell me what your passion is.” Along this vein, Nordlinger shared the advice he often gives to students: “In 15–20 years, what is your dream job? Figure that out, and then move backwards from there.” At her PLEN seminar, Senkeeto also received advice about how graduate school fits into her career plans; “You don’t need to go to law school!” her mentor told her. With this advice, Senkeeto started working in policy after her undergrad and found the Public Policy Analysis degree to be more inline with her long-term career goals. All of the panelists highlighted how much of a financial and time commitment graduate school is, so making sure that you choose the right program at the right time is essential.
Most of the speakers attended graduate school while working full time. While they all noted that balancing work, school, and life in general was extremely difficult, they all emphasized the important skills they learned from this experience. Yuen, who attended GSPM while also working full time at AAUW, learned how to find a healthy work-life balance, and also found the ability to immediately apply her coursework to the real world extremely beneficial to her success. “The value of having work experience before going to grad school brought me to the next level,” she said about working on Capitol Hill and AAUW before deciding to pursue her Master’s degree while working full time.
The resources that graduate schools provide are also important to be aware of before, during, and after graduate school. Each one of the speakers highlighted the importance of asking questions; if you are unsure of your next steps, meet with people at different steps along the path you see yourself taking, and ask them about their graduate school experiences. Rotella stressed the networks that graduate programs at George Washington University provide; whatever industry you’re interested in, the alumni office can connect you with someone in that position for you to talk to. Thompson built on the importance of connecting with others by saying, “there is a network that’s out there and you need to tap into it!” Whether that network is your undergraduate alumni network, graduate school’s alumni network or the PLEN Alumnae Network, taking the initiative to ask questions and learn about others’ experiences will help you immensely before, during, and after graduate school.