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Monday, October 25, 2021

Many look to graduate school in uncertain times

With a slimmer and increasingly competitive job market awaiting graduates, many students look to graduate school as a potential respite from an unforgiving economic climate.

However, given what University of California (UC) President Mark Yudof called “a sad day for California” in his letter to the state following Gov. Jerry Brown’s recently proposed $500 million reduction in state support for the universities, it is unclear to some whether UC’s graduate programs will still offer the same level of opportunity they may have only a few years ago.

“I think it’s inevitable that there will be cuts to graduate programs that’ll lower [graduate] school acceptance rates,” said Luis Ramirez, senior computer science major. “It worries me that not only will there be less [graduate] students, but entire programs may be cut as well.”

Despite uncertain financial horizons, according to associate professor Gina Bloom, the graduate advisor in the English department, graduate programs are not being negatively affected — at least, not in the UC Davis English department.

“The sense that I’ve gotten is that the graduate programs are pretty well protected from budget cuts,” Bloom said. “For instance, our grant allocation from the Office of Graduate Studies has stayed consistent. So I haven’t seen any negative fallout yet…”

“As far as our numbers … no, we have not been told to cut our [graduate] program … The plan for the university is to grow,” Bloom said, emphasizing the university’s plan for expansion, not retraction.

Still, getting into graduate school, steady acceptance rates or not, is the least of aspiring graduate student’s worries, warned Bloom.

“Admissions is the least of your hurdles; you still need to make it through a program, get a dissertation written and get a job,” Bloom said. “It [a Ph.D. program] is definitely not for the weak of heart.”

According to MA creative writing graduate student and teacher’s assistant Arthur Middleton, however, admissions, the least of one’s problems or not, is no simple chore.

“The application process for graduate school is draining and challenging,” Middleton said in an e-mail. “I am more than excited to be here, but wish the process — all the nail biting, formatting, stress over your portfolio — on no one.”

When asked what’s looked for in an ideal candidate, for that strong- hearted person who ultimately does decide to commit to the graduate process, Bloom stressed originality as a crucial standout trait.

“I look for originality. Polish has some importance, but someone with a lovely polished essay that checks off all the boxes and does all the things you want it to do, is not necessarily going to do well in academia,” Bloom said. “You have to be taking risks with your ideas.”

Middleton ultimately advised something similar to Bloom. That is, chiefly, that a graduate student needs more than precision, but passion.

“Fall in love with what you are reading, studying, researching; allow things to affect you and interrogate why they are affecting you,” Middleton said. “Get kidnapped by ideas, allow yourself to be wrong and pay attention to why you want to be right, and what kind of a road is ahead if being right is a goal.”

JAMES O’HARA can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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