Ep. 030 – Should You Go To Graduate School?

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Some housekeeping items:
– We’re going 2 times a week! Check out a new episode every Monday and Wednesday starting January 2nd!
– On January 2nd, we will have 7 interviews from 7 well-known graduate students and we’re calling it the Graduate Series. You can check it out at myfoodjobrocks.com/graduate

Key Takeaways

  • Hear me pronounce words wrong like existential crisis
  • My story about applying to graduate school
  • 5 reasons why you should apply to graduate school anyways

Is Graduate School For You?

I wanted to tell you my story on graduate school, which isn’t very exciting, but whatever.

I think everyone has this weird thing, like an existential crisis, that happens in your senior year of college where you have absolutely no idea what to do after graduating. I think it’s very common to have graduate school cross your mind once or twice during your final year in college. The school I went to to be honest, has a slight disadvantage when it comes to applying for graduate school. Though some people in my university do get in, the skill set in the food science program at Cal Poly was definitely geared more towards industry preparation. For example, I only had to take one Organic Chemistry course, where most master’s programs require like 3 courses on it. There are exceptions.

But anyways, applying to graduate school is really tough, I found it extremely stressful and overall, I turned in my application late and didn’t get in. Actually, I only applied to Penn State for graduate school. I got so angry at UC Davis’ process that I didn’t even finish it.

First of all, you have to take this dumb test where you stare at a computer screen for 6 hours, then you have to ask 3 people why you’re the best and either have them take the time to write a letter, or they ask you to write it for them, and then you have to not only request a transcript, but in some cases, you have to type it all in the application process as well! It was extremely frustrating for me.

I was also applying to jobs and if you looked back at like, episode 10, then you might remember how much time that consumed out of my day.

Overall, I had a cheesy revelation that there are plenty of people who are successful without a Ph.D. and I’ve heard a lot of stories about the pros and cons of graduate school, and then I realized I really didn’t want to deal with the stress of long hours and bite sized paychecks.

With a job, I could get money and spend it on cool projects, like this one!

Note: these are my opinions for people with a Food Scientist background. There are many people who major in things that might as well have an advanced degree, though if you think hard enough, you can actually get around it.

For example, a chemist might need a Masters but I know a handful of people who get into project management fresh out of college with a BS.

But the 7 people we will be interviewing do understand the value of a higher education and they will tell you all of their trials and tribulations, their hints and short cuts, and their undying passion to make the world a better place.

But anyways, I wanted to give you five distinct pieces of advice about graduate school and reasons why you should at least apply, or not apply. Sometimes it might be worth it, sometimes not.

5 Tips for deciding if Graduate School is for you.

  1. Decide what you want to do with your life

Most directors for rich companies have PhDs because they have the ability and drive to tell people confidently that they’re wrong.

The company I work at specifically have a lot of people at the director level that are doctorates.

So when it comes to mapping out your life, this is really, really hard. It is actually very rare for someone to follow their life in one straight line.

A masters will open doors, but so will starting a podcast about the food industry. Well, that was a bit tongue in cheek, but the fact remains, graduate school is a very nice, structured, accomplishable task and you can do great things in a narrow field when you get that masters or phd. If you want an unconventional method, get a job, and spend money on fun projects.

Some people don’t want to find the “truth of tomatoes” and that’s fine too. I think if you’re passionate and actually like what you studied, you can definitely do graduate school.

The cool thing with food science, however, is that there is a lot more incentive to enter the work force right away. This is mainly because having a science degree means two things:

  • You think you can tell lesser educated people they’re wrong (which is why you can be a supervisor straight out of college)
  • You can weigh and record in a little book your cookie recipe over and over again

Well, with a  masters degree, it adds a bit of a layer of complexity:

  • You think you can tell lesser educated people they’re wrong (which is why you can be a manager straight out of college)
  • You can weigh and record in a little book your cookie recipe over and over again, but now you can write a plan to make better cookies before you record your data.

So I am basically giving you the philosophy that a degree and work experience are pretty much equal, and the only thing that separates is the value and initiative YOU have to take to be successful.

Also, I can guarantee you that working at a 12 hour shift in a factory for a month is equal to a month in graduate school. I did this, it sucked, but I got a job that I love because of it.

Guys, to do great things, you must do something challenging, I can’t stress this enough. A good life is hard, if life was easy, it’d be too boring, right?

  1. Do you have good grades and accomplishments? Go For It!

Our friend Heather McCain is an amazing student, was our chapter IFT president, did a lot of stuff for IFTSA, and got stuff done. It would be a shame for her NOT to apply for graduate school.

I did some cool stuff too, so I decided to not let this go to waste and applied to graduate school.

This is the same experience I had going into college for my Bachelors.
I wanted to be a chef, but my grades were pretty good so I decided to apply to college. But graduate school, I realized… I’m not an academic. I’m still not sure what I’m good at. But I have a good idea on what I’m bad at.

In my opinion, it’s extremely painful to apply to graduate school but you should give it a shot. When I say painful, it’s going to take time and it’s going to take effort. The experience has some tangible takeaways, like knowing math… and knowing words…

So I have a bias about applying to graduate school because the process was absolutely terrible in my mind but I think with the interviews this month, you’ll have a much better strategy than I had. Who knows, I might actually change my mind.

Again, if you have the prerequisites, at least try applying. There is no harm to. I mean I did, and failed horribly at it! The point is, you’re going to regret not trying, more than you’ll regret trying.

And this statement is true for all decisions in life.

  1. Do you know a professor? Go for it!

If you have a professor’s digits on your phone, you can probably get funding. At least much more easier than everyone who doesn’t?

Most strategies I’ve learned from the interviews is that it is MUCH easier to contact professors, and set up a relationship and then apply to graduate school. The professor is going to OK you anyways so as long as you don’t have glaringly bad GPA or exam score.

Within the 7 interviews in the coming week, you’ll realize that a handful of them contacted professors and secured funding before even doing the application process. However, some were long time connections, and some didn’t even have to worry about it.

If this helps, Graduate school is not undergraduate school. It’s a low paying job with high returns in value and you have to treat it as such. You can get a job via connections and you can go to graduate school via connects. This is because you’re going to work with this professor for a very long time. He or she has to like working with you.

  1. Do you just not want to deal with the “real world”? Don’t Do It.

Everyone is scared about the real world and everyone has considered graduate school to be another two to 10 years of academic limbo. I would know, I’ve had it and I I’ve also heard graduate students that “I’m not ready to face the real world yet”

In my personal experience, that’s the worst, most cringe-worthy excuse I’ve ever heard.

In fact, you should deal with the real world first before deciding to go to graduate school. Get some industry experience, do an internship, work at a slaughterhouse. These experiences might actually give you more of a drive to get into graduate school.

The real world isn’t that bad, I mean you make money, right? And you can spend it on whatever you want. When you’re a graduate student, you have to be very frugal…well, unless your parents are paying for it. Then go for it!

  1. Do you want a higher pay grade? Don’t Do It… yet

    1. This questions depends on your major, but I’m going to assume the people listening are trying to get into the food industry.

Depending on the company, they will pay for your education. And you’ll also get paid for work! What a steal. If that ever gets offered, you should do it.

However, if you meticulously plan your life like a lot of my friends, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

My friends are like “oh in 5 years after I get my masters I’ll make this, then I’ll get married, have 2.5 kids and  nothing else will go wrong. I mean, maybe I dunno, but you can’t predict the future and even with that mindset, if one thing doesn’t go your way, your life will be very unhappy, which is just not necessary.

So does a graduate degree generally means more pay? Depends where you end up. Industry? Academia? Entrepreneurship? The possibilities are indeed endless.

With my discussions with Katie Lanfranki, we both discussed the fact that in this industry, having an advanced degree does not necessarily mean you’ll be paid higher. There are starting salaries in food science that make more than professors, who have made less than 10,000 dollars in the past 4 to 10 years.

Point being, don’t get your graduate degree for the money. DO it because you are interested in a specific subject, and want to be a MASTERS of it.

But again, mastery can come from anywhere. I would concider Deya from Beyond Meat (episode 24)is considered an expert in Extrusion with just a bachelors, and Darryl the ice cream consultant(episode 21) gained from entrepreneurship.

Either way, DO NOT GET YOUR ADVANCED DEGREE FOR THE MONEY. Having this mindset is very toxic. You have to do it because you love what you do. You have to do what will make you happy.

Anyways, those are my 5 reasons to go (or not go) to graduate school. But please, listen to all seven interviews so you can get multiple perspectives, multiple pieces of advice from people all over the world. This is extremely important. I would have killed for this if I was in graduate school.

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