By Laura Morrison, July 2014
In an environment as competitive as graduate school can be, applicants can benefit greatly from any advantage. Tailoring your expectations and knowing what to expect can be a big advantage for students, especially once they've been accepted and find themselves wrestling with potential culture shock.
Taking on an endeavor as large and imposing as graduate studies can be intimidating. If you're considering pursuing higher education, separating myth from fact and arming yourself with valuable information as to what's important - and what isn't - can be crucial to success.
Being Smart is Not the Only Important Quality of a Ph.D Student
It may sound counterintuitive, especially when you're looking into something as intensive as earning a Ph.D., but a superlative intelligence isn't as huge an asset as you may believe. That's not to say that you can't or shouldn't be smart and well-informed and succeed in graduate school, but brains alone don't spell success. According to one blogger writing for LifeHacker, being knowledgeable about your field is important, but it's only a piece of the puzzle.
As a graduate student, you're not there to simply fill your head with data. You're actually a living, organic part of your academic field's community. This means that not only will you have to know things, but you'll have to know how to communicate well and deal with others effectively as well. Even the brainiest students can get tripped up if they lack the soft skills to get them through some of the unique challenges graduate school presents.
In fact, academia as a whole is slowly but surely starting to acknowledge the diminishing importance of such "hard" factors. According to TBO.com, one professor from the University of Southern Florida has pointed out to schools nationwide that the classical reliance on test scores, specifically the GRE, is outdated and misguided, as such tests are rarely accurate predictors of success, The Tampa Tribune reported.
Earning a Ph.D. is All About Experiencing New Things
If your sole purpose for attending graduate school was to gain knowledge, you could just read books. The primary appeal of graduate school isn't the information you'll be absorbing, but the opportunities you'll have access to that you otherwise wouldn't be able to experience. As a graduate student, you'll have access to all sorts of unique opportunities, from guest lectures to seminars to travel-abroad programs. True, a lot of these may not directly impact your grade or the success of your program, but what they will do is expose you to new perspectives, people and ideas. Your role as a graduate student is to use your knowledge of your field to contribute to the world, and such opportunities are great ways to do just that.
Plus, you'll greatly increase the network of people you meet, which is huge benefit come graduation. And of course, the different soft skills you develop throughout the course of your excursions will make you far more valuable to prospective employers down the line.
Ph.D Candidates Should Love Their Field, but be Prepared to Step Outside of it
Many who pursue graduate studies, especially at the Ph.D. level, do so because they have a desire to join the academic community, usually in a teaching or research capacity. However, teaching and professor positions may not always be readily available.
Prospective graduates shouldn't fret at this, however, as the traditional paradigm of hyperspecialization in graduate school is melting away in the 21st century. Critical thinking and analysis skills that might be gained in graduate school can be just as important as the subject matter expertise, Ph.D degree holders might be able to identify many potential employment opportunities outside of academia. In fact, Al Jazeera reported that some school have even begun collecting data on employment opportunities and using such information to consider adjusting Ph.D. programs to make them more widely applicable.
About the Author: Laura Morrison is the Web Content Manager for GradSchools.com. She earned an MBA from the Rutgers School of Business in 2010.