Setting sights on a higher degree

Megan Grote

Grad students find ways to deal with greater workload, responsibility

Graduate students live a life very different from undergraduate students.

“During the first or second semester, you realize that you live in a different world than other students. Graduate students have a different mindset,” geography graduate student Joe Harwood said.

Graduate students have decided to focus their lives on something more than just school, he said.

“From my own experience as a graduate student, it was a time I spent focused on what I was interested in,” said John Stalvey, associate dean for Graduate College Affairs. “I was focused on Biology. For me, it was fun to do.”

A graduate student may have less structured days and fewer classes, but the workload is greater than undergraduate students. That’s one of the biggest differences between graduate students and undergraduates, geography graduate student Paul Butke said.

“Undergraduates are babied a little more,” he said. “As a graduate student, you are expected to be able to handle more responsibility and to manage your time better and take care of business.”


“We are kind of considered as a limbo group,” clinical psychology graduate student Abbey Tissot said. “We are practically faculty, but we are not.”

While Tissot is pursuing her doctorate degree, she is required to instruct a child psychology course to undergraduate students.

Some do not realize how much work is actually put into a course, she said. Instructors must create the syllabus, use outside sources besides the text, hold office hours and create exams.

Tissot’s instructor responsibility is included with her own graduate courses and clinical psychology research.

Tissot is not alone when it comes to juggling the multiple roles of a graduate student.

“There is always something to do,” Butke said. “It is a blessing and a curse.”

Butke said being a perfectionist and constantly being surrounded by other graduate students who are serious about their work helps him stay dedicated to his studies.

“Although we may be considered a limbo group, we are still students,” he said.

“You wouldn’t do this unless you liked it,” said Phil Reno, biological anthropology graduate student. “Grad students are directed to one goal.”

Although graduate students do not have a lot of time for hobbies, Reno is open to research opportunities as a student.

Currently, Reno’s education is guided by the completion of his dissertation. He also teaches an anatomy course for pre-med students at the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine.

“As a grad student, you just have to keep on top of all responsibilities and know what’s happening,” he said. “Your primary goal is research and class to get your degree. You can’t let things get in the way.”

A graduate student’s dissertation is a major part of receiving a degree.

A dissertation is a long process which has no set time frame. It tends to differ with all graduate students, Harwood said. Once the graduate student begins to write the dissertation, it takes several months to years to complete.

Love life

Tissot does have another part of her life that she does not get to make much time for: Her marriage.

“My situation is pretty common,” she said. “It is incredibly common for (graduate students) to have spouses/fiancees/significant others in places quite far away.”

Tissot’s husband attends law school in Toledo, which is two and a half hours away.

“Presently, I am going three weeks without seeing him,” she said. “Yet, even when he is home, I am inundated with work, and we spend most of our time doing work individually but in a place that we can be together.”

Tissot and her husband do get to spend breaks together, she said. They look forward to the times when they consider themselves to be “really married.”

“I think we are fortunate because we’ve known each other so long. We’ve been together about 11 years now, and so we have just gotten accustomed to allowing one another to grow,” she said.

On a daily basis they try to check-in with one another twice. She said it is difficult to get through the stressful times, but she gets used to dealing with things alone.

“I think that we keep our marriage together by making sure we have a certain amount of time when he is home where we just sit together,” she said. “It may sound strange, but just being in one another’s space and talking about anything helps to bring us together again before he has to go back to school.”

Although her situation is not how she imagined it would be during the first “blissful years” of marriage, they are working to keep the relationship growing.

“Professional education makes demands on your time that you neither foresaw nor appreciate; but you continue plugging away hoping that you will eventually get to a good place with the one you love,” she said.

Social life

“It’s so hard to meet people when you have the schedule of a grad student,” Harwood said. “Graduates’ interests are so sparse, and there is little in common with one another besides school.”

At this point in life, graduate students tend to be set in their ways, he said. They tend to not be as outgoing as they once were.

Graduate students’ social lives are an adjustment from their undergraduate days. As graduate students, other things are directing their lives.

The dating scene is different too, Harwood said. More graduate students are getting married or are in very committed relationships.

Harwood is presently not in a relationship. He has considered joining a young professionals group in the Cleveland area, which is a group of professionals around the age of 26 who form their own social group.

“Although graduate students’ lives mainly revolve around studies,” he said, “they have just as much fun as anyone else.”

One reason why Butke chose Kent State is because the social scene was similar to Bowling Green State University, where he did his undergraduate work.

“I like to party. I like the social atmospheres and the bars,” Butke said. “I want to interact with people; I just don’t get a chance too often.”

Butke said he lives in Holly Park, where there is always something going on. He interacts with many undergraduate students, especially because his roommate is an undergraduate.

“As a master’s student you tend to be considered as more in the ‘limbo group,'” he said, “because most are only a couple semesters ahead of undergraduates.”

Although graduate students are pulled in many directions, they do offer many things to a university’s campus, Stalvey said.

“A graduate student brings a variety of things to the Kent State campus such as diversity since many of the graduate students are international students,” he said. “Graduate students also bring curiosity and love for a particular discipline, and they bring a youthful experience to the classroom.”

Contact Arts and Sciences reporter Megan Grote at [email protected].