How I Got to Grad School... Finally.
by Tara Fay
Published February 28, 2007
June 2001: I graduated with my B.S. in exercise physiology feeling slightly burnt out and unsure about what I wanted to get my Masters degree in, so I decided to take a year off and be a physical education teacher. One year. No big deal, right? Well?
June 2002: That one year sure did fly by fast, so I decided to sign on for one more year of teaching special needs children all about sports and personal fitness. Very cool, very rewarding.
June 2003: Still not back in school! In fact, an intriguing job opportunity fell into my lap - I was going to be able to work as a wellness program coordinator, an exercise physiologist (I was really going to USE my degree!) and a research assistant all in one place, 45 hours a week, twice as much pay, more time off, better benefits, 401K (wait, a 401 what?!) -? well anyway, who could refuse!? Not me.
June 2005: Yes, we did just skip 2, count 'em, 2 YEARS. I was happy at my job, living the good life (you know, the one where you get paid, pay your bills, and still have a little cash left in your pocket for fun with friends) but discovered that if I was going to move up any kind of professional ladder or make any more money I needed to go to graduate school. I had a focus, I had a desire, and I had an application. I picked one school, close to home, and got rejected. Yup, rejected. My GRE scores were just a little too low and I got nudged out by some genius standardized test-taker. Grrr.
So, what did I do? I cried. Then I got on the phone with the department head of the program I had applied to and asked, "What can I do to make myself a better candidate?" She and I had a very candid conversation and I hung up with a To Do list. It wasn't very long, but it was going to be very time consuming and challenging to complete. Fast forward one-year...
June 2006: After re-taking the GREs (and scored a little higher), after enduring 45 hours of work per week PLUS two graduate classes (to prove my ability to still be a student), and after applying to 4 different graduate schools, I finally on my way. I did get into the school I applied to the year before and again the department head and I had another conversation - this time about my career goals and research interests. This time I did the rejecting. Instead of staying close to home I chose to move 2200 miles away and give western living a shot.
August 2006: My cat and I made the move together - One morning I woke up and east-coast girl, that same night, I fell asleep on the rough-carpet of my newly rented apartment in a little mid-western college town I'd almost never stepped foot in (I came for a brief scouting visit before I decided moving across the country was a good idea), wishing I had a bed and my cat was more cuddly. What on earth made this a good idea!?
February 2007: Well, I'll tell you what made this a good idea....
I am living my dream. I wake up to the Rocky Mountains every day. I take a 10 minute bike or bus ride to school because I don't have a car because there's no need for one here. I spend the day getting exponentially educated, working with amazing people, teaching brilliant students, and feeling like I am making a difference in the world. Sound cheesy? Well, it is a little, but seriously, I am working on research projects that some of my old coworkers would drool over. I love, love, love being a teaching assistant. Running my own class is uber-cool and teaching anatomy has been something I've wanted to do since I first took the class in high school in 1996. AND, to top it off, next year I get to be a Lead Teaching Assistant. This means that I get to go to all sorts of cool seminars for free, visit and network with faculty members at other colleges and universities, and locally, I get to help other graduate students in my department become better teacher through running my own trainings and working with them one-on-one. This is good stuff, and I am happy.
Don't get me wrong, being 2200 miles away from my family and friends has been really challenging. So has adjusting to a student's budget again. But something in me - maybe a little birdie chirping in my ear, maybe my own inner voice - whatever it is, something tells me that I'm in the right place, at the right time, and I'm in for a wild and wonderful ride.
Photo by Hannibal Poenaru