Friday, November 24

Graduate students apply degrees to future careers

Mark Kaswan, a political science graduate student with a specialization in political theory, explains his dissertation to a student. Kaswan plans to take a fellowship at Rutgers University and to continue research in the political field.

Mark Kaswan, a political science graduate student with a specialization in political theory, explains his dissertation to a student. Kaswan plans to take a fellowship at Rutgers University and to continue research in the political field. WOOBIN LEE/Daily Bruin

UCLA graduate students receiving degrees in the social sciences and humanities provide a variety of answers for the question, “What are you going to do with that degree?”

After years of trying to balance school with being a teaching assistant, working and even supporting a family, the graduates will finally be presented with their completed degrees at the end of the week.

“It feels great to be done. There’s a great sense of accomplishment,” said Steve Black, who will be receiving his doctorate in anthropology.

Black completed his undergraduate education with a double major in anthropology and ethnomusicology, with plans to become a musician. He said he never planned to do much with his anthropology degree until he decided it was a more stable choice than musicianship.

Yet Black is one of many UCLA graduates who is still awaiting a response from employers. He has applied to several academic positions, hoping to continue his research with a teaching position at a university.

Hoi Ning Ngai, a soon-to-be graduate who will receive a doctorate in higher education, said following the path toward an academic job is not uncommon for students who obtain doctorate degrees.

Unlike her fellow tenure-track seekers, Ngai aims to work in higher education at the administrative level as an associate, assistant dean or director. Although she is still in the process of interviewing, Ngai is focused and set on what she plans to do with her career.

Although Ngai completed her undergraduate degree as a pre-medical psychology student, she decided medical school was not the right career path for her. Ngai always knew she wanted to make use of her psychology degree, but she did not know how. She found the answer after taking three years off before entering graduate school. She took up a series of jobs in many different areas and industries, including administrative education.

“I was going back up to school to do lots of work with student affairs offices, alumni affairs offices and career offices,” Ngai said. “I was doing a lot of advising, counseling and planning, and realized I missed working with students and that sort of environment.”

Like many of her colleagues, Ngai strongly recommended taking time off before diving into graduate school.

“Everyone needs emotional and physical space to realize what they want to do,” Ngai said. “A lot of the time, people are in college, and they are doing more school because everyone else is doing it, and you don’t get a chance to breathe and reflect.”

There are many others in the social sciences and humanities who exemplify this trend. Mark Kaswan, a political science graduate with a specialization in political theory, and Satomi Kuroshima, an applied linguistics graduate, are just a few of them .

After graduating high school, Kaswan paused his education for a year to become a political activist. He then started his undergraduate education at UC Santa Cruz, but dropped out after two quarters. Twenty years later he had a family of his own and was working on his undergraduate degree as a transfer at California State University, Northridge.

After completing his undergraduate degree, Kaswan enrolled in graduate school at UCLA, specializing in political theory. At 48 years old, Kaswan said he still wishes he had not rushed the transition from an undergraduate education to a graduate one.

Kaswan said he will continue to work in the political field by taking on a fellowship at Rutgers University. He will receive funding from the institution to conduct research concentrating on workplace democracy.

“Part of my interests have to do with how different definitions of happiness have to do with the structure of institutions, particularly the ideas of democracy in the workplace,” Kaswan said.

He said he hopes to publish his findings in academic journals and eventually teach at a university categorized by the Center for Measuring University Research Performance as a Research I institution, which indicates that extensive research activity is a high priority.

After seven years of graduate school, Kuroshima, an international student from Japan, will also continue to work with her degree. Kuroshima will be moving back to Japan to work for the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. She will be working on a particular project that involves medical communications, something that she said is quite relevant to what she studies.

Although all the graduates thoroughly enjoyed their graduate experiences, all agreed the journey was anything but easy. The expensive cost was generally covered through working as teaching assistants, as well as receiving scholarships or alternate forms of funding.

“It’s certainly not free money,” Ngai said.

Kaswan was lucky enough to be able to rely on his wife as a financial resource. Other students, such as Black, have had to seek financial aid from their families.

“I kind of jumped into it without knowing what I was getting into, which ended up great for me, but I saw other people get kicked out or dropped out,” Black said.

They all said graduate school is not a place for everyone ““ students must be committed and must want to gain more from their experience than good grades and a lucrative career.

“It’s not like (medical) school or something like that where you’re probably going to have a job where you’ll make a lot of money,” Black said. “You have to be very dedicated to doing it.”

Kuroshima agreed with Black and added a few concerns of her own.

“I was worried about finding a job because I was applying to so many and not getting them. I even looked into non-academic jobs,” Kuroshima said. “It takes time and effort.”

Even though students may not get a job completely relevant to their studies, there are always ways they can integrate their degree with distinct areas, Ngai said.

Ngai exemplifies this by combining her degrees in psychology and higher education to apply for counseling and administrative positions at colleges and universities.

“In this day and age, there are huge opportunities to blend everything, and it really is up to you,” Ngai said.

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