The Perpetual Graduate Student

Should Your Supervisee Go Back to Graduate School?

I have this conversation several times a month with either one of my supervisees or occasionally with a colleague who is independently licensed.

The conversation typically starts with the statement “So, I’ve been thinking about going back to graduate school.”

At first glance this seems like a great thing….going back to school…earning another degree…enhancing one’s skills.

However, I approach this discussion as an opportunity to talk about what they really want from their work, their life and from graduate school should they choose to return.

Questions to Consider for Clarification

  1. What are your goals regarding the “work? ”  That is, the “work” of therapy or just their career in general.
  2. What do you want to study? Take note if it is the basically the same area of study.
  3. What prompted this consideration about graduate school right now?
  4. What does it mean to you personally to earn a doctorate degree?
  5. What do you want to do in your career? Where do you see yourself working?
  6. Is there a niche or a specialty area where you see yourself making a difference?
  7. What are your expectations regarding income as it relates to this degree?
  8. Will you need to take out loans to pursue this degree? Do you currently have student loan debt?
  9. Is there someone in your life or family…is there an element of cultural identity at play in this decision?

This may seem like over-kill. However, these questions represent the essence of what I want to know in order to engage meaningfully in the discussion.

What are the Benefits and Risks of Returning to Graduate School?

One of the obvious risks is debt! Many professionals have heavy student loan debt. I’ve noticed that some recent graduates appear to re-enroll in school to defer payment on student loans. Of course that practice just means accruing more debt and more interest compounding on their existing debt.

A few of the intrinsically appealing benefits include the preference some people have for the relative structure of graduate school.

  • The clarity of it.
  • The syllabi.
  • The grades. (Did I do well? Am I doing well…securely affirmed?)
  • Their “love” of learning is satisfied or rather it is cited as a reason to return to graduate school.

However, as a person who also loves to learn, I can attest that there are very affordable ways to continue learning. I recognize that my most valuable learning opportunities have occurred in the field; in consultation; by reading; by attending continuing education events, etc…

An Example of a Recent Case (to Return to Graduate School or Not?)

Just last week a well qualified but underemployed supervisee suggested going back to school for another degree in a different field.

As it turns out, the fact of her underemployment was impacting her professional esteem. Upon asking several of the questions I listed above, it turned out that she was considering going back to graduate school as a means of garnering respect.

After continued reflection and exploration, the experiences she is having in the workplace are consistent in my estimation with a lack of assertiveness.

Subsequently her desire to go back to school was also a desire to prove her worth to others.

The truth is…self worth at the adult stage of life is an inside job! The more we seek external validation, the more we need it to sustain our identity. Ironically, it is therefore never enough…we would need that ongoing approval from others to be “okay.” It’s a trap.

Just as a reminder the feedback loop in graduate school mimics the “You’re okay” or “You’re this far from okay” or the validation that a person in this circumstance might be seeking.

Reasons to Go Back to Graduate School

The reasons to go back to graduate school, in my estimation are as follows:

  • You want to become a full time professor at a college or university someday. If so, I’m hopeful that some experience with teaching adult learners has already been obtained and there is clarity about this desire to teach post K-12.
  • You want to change fields all together and a different degree is required.
  • You have financial means to pay for graduate school and/or you are going to secure scholarships.
  • You intend to work in a setting serving a population wherein your student loans will be forgiven.
  • You have clarity that you are not avoiding your own personal and career development concerns.
  • It is a personally meaningful achievement and whether or not you earn more income or respect, etc…you want to achieve earning a doctorate degree.

Why Do So Many People with Graduate Degrees Considering Going Back for More?

Sometimes the desire to “learn” more is triggered by the recognition that there is so much to learn…

…or the knowledge that in some ways graduate school is “wasted” on graduate students. (I mean that jokingly).

However the point is that when we are practicing in the field clinically and applying what we learned in school, we really begin to value that information more.

We long for better recall of that content…so we can be more proficient at what we do.

I am occasionally asked why I don’t pursue a doctorate degree…well there are two reasons:

  1. I don’t need one to do the work that I’m already doing and enjoying (so it doesn’t align with my goals).
  2. I’m still paying for my education from both undergraduate and graduate school. (I finished my Master’s degree 18 years ago.)

Reason #2 – is not directly related…because if the degree were to be paid for by scholarships or by student loan forgiveness, I still would not pursue it…I enjoy learning on my own terms and at my own pace.

Copyright © 2016 Ruby Blow. All rights reserved.

Share your thoughts on Linkedin, FacebookTwitter or log in to one of your accounts below to comment.