Living off-campus won’t take away from the experience of attending college. You can make new friends on the grad level, even though many of you likely commute. Of course, you shouldn’t expect the same kind of crazy scene as you probably lived through during your undergrad years. As I mentioned in the previous post, the culture itself – no matter which field you go into – is vastly different. It’s more “adult” (for lack of a better word), but certainly not boring. People are there to learn and to dive into the field. You would be surprised by the myriad of goals and ambitions of your classmates. In my case, no one has the same future in mind for their post-master years. They also find different things appealing within communication and have various things to offer to the discussion.
If you feel apprehensive about making new friends or out of your league, keep in mind that none of you is an expert. You’re in the same boat. It’s best to keep an open mind and an open heart when school starts, because you’re going to need some friends to get through all that hard work ahead of you.
As a grad assistant, I was fortunate to meet and get to know most of the faculty in the communication department that teach the grad students. I would advise that even if you don’t land a job like that, take a moment to reach out to the professors in your department. They can help you figure out your classes, what kind of jobs there are for someone with your degree, which people to talk to, who may be studying the same/similar thing you are, which books you should read, et cetera.
The communication department at Oakland University is pretty small. It isn’t the type of situation where everyone knows everyone, but you know most people and you know of certain people. Since the classes are challenging, it’s only natural that we all turn to each other for help, emotional support and a laugh. Sometimes we wonder aloud, “What the hell did we just read for class?” I can’t speak for every grad program, but in communication you’ll read more within a four-month period than you could possibly ever imagine, anything from scholarly articles to book excerpts to long blog entries. Be willing to carve a decent portion of time just for reading if you attend grad school. Write down your thoughts about the reading, because your professor will ask about them. The answer “I liked it/didn’t like it” doesn’t cut it, just FYI. (Half the time, you won’t like it anyway.) Haha
Find something that you care about after you’ve been in the program for a while, and find your “groove.” Some readings have had a great impact on me and driven me to look for more at Kresge Library. For example, Michel Foucault, who wrote extensively on post-structuralism and the effects that power relations have on our society, has helped me reconsider what I know and how I know it. Antonio Gramsci, who coined the term “hegemony,” has been fascinating as well. Hegemony is the construction of power through ideas and knowledge, which is done by the consent of the people, instead of force. Racism, for instance, is form of power and it continuously exists due to the general public and their acceptance thereof, because of a set of ideas that have been instilled in them. And by reading a vast variety of feminist scholars, I’ve come to a better understanding of feminism, which has become more complex than ever before. It means something different for everyone and is used differently by various cultural and political groups.
By groove, I mean your own way to study a phenomenon. There are several kinds of research methods and in communication alone, there are several fields, sub-fields and theories (or your viewpoint of the world). There is an on-going debate in social science whether one should let the data speak for itself or if one should analyze it and draw their own conclusions from it. That’s just one of many, many philosophical questions that never will be fully answered. Nonetheless, people will argue about them. I assure you, it doesn’t matter what you’re studying, once you climb higher on the academic ladder, people expect you to have some opinions and a willingness to participate in debates.
Truth is, even with a master’s, you won’t be an expert in whatever subject you’ve spent the past two-plus years on. You’ll have a clue at best. For real, man, the more stuff you read and the more research you perform, you’ll become increasingly aware of how little you know. Now it almost sounds like getting a master’s is a dead-end, but please hear me out.
I would say that so far this experience has expanded my views and taught me new ways to process and analyze information. I ask more questions than before and approach most topics with a degree of skepticism. I’m learning how to form a good argument and I’m growing my patience because when it comes to research and finding the good stuff, you got to dig, dig, dig, dig, dig.
Most of all, I have come to value the act of discussion or conversation. Earlier I was more concerned about being right, you know. Being in grad school has helped me realize this: Even if you’re talking with someone with completely different views, knowing you would rather outlive god than change your mind, listening to someone else’s point of view is healthy. It offers a new light on the subject. It helps you grow as a person, you understand where people come from and you can empathize with others. In a day and age where people post their opinions on the Internet, a.k.a. shout into the void, I feel like that’s something many people forget.