We asked 10 people who have traveled down the grad school road what they wished they had known before starting.

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Going to graduate school is a huge life commitment. Before you embark on the big adventure, listen to the wisdom of those who have gone before you.

We asked 10 people who have traveled down the grad school road what they wished they had known before starting their program. May their advice help you determine your path — and perhaps avoid some of the common pitfalls.

Christy Kelly

Degree: Master of Business Administration

School: Duke University

Current status: Consultant at Lenati in Seattle

What I didn’t know before starting school was that all of the networking and relationship building begins well before the first day of school. The most valuable thing I took from my time in grad school was the relationships and networks that the school and community offered.

… If people move in three weeks before school starts, do it, too. If people go to math camp, go too (even if you don’t think you need it). Reach out to some of the club presidents and see if you can get involved early.

I wish I had known that getting a Ph.D. is a 'create your own adventure' sort of situation.” - Emily Gade, UW

Emily Gade

Degree: Master in Political Science

School: University of Washington

Current status: Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Washington

I wish I had known that getting a Ph.D. is a “create your own adventure” sort of situation. Most graduate degrees are not the equivalent to getting a law degree or a medical degree.  They’re more fluid and have more options within them.

My favorite things about being a Ph.D. student are the near complete freedom (or at least flexibility) in terms of schedule and subject matter, and that your job is the quest for new knowledge. There are brilliant people around you, and if you play your cards right, you can get paid to gallivant around remote regions of the world on fieldwork.

My best piece of advice is to trust yourself, to be indomitable in the face of sometimes overwhelming obstacles, to develop a very thick skin, to play outside as much as possible and to practice and develop good self-care habits.

Kacey Morrow

Degree: Master of Fine Arts

School: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Current status: Assistant professor of new media design at Western Washington University

I did my master’s degree in two years, but I kind of wish I’d done it in three years and took my sweet time. It’s such a lovely, selfish time to have to focus on your work and yourself. However, you don’t make money, so I was poor (unless you can land a teaching or research assistant position that will help pay tuition).

They also don’t tell you that you won’t finish your thesis on time. Only one guy out of my group got his done on time — it takes forever!

Julian Reyes

Degree: B.S. in Civil Engineering

School: Washington State University

Current status: Ph.D. candidate in civil engineering, WSU

Most people seem to think that the only path forward after your master’s degree is in consulting, or academia after your Ph.D. But there are diverse opportunities and career paths available outside the traditional ones.

I have learned that there are numerous opportunities outside these fields, and sometimes you can even create your own opportunities through networking, diligence and hard work.

For example, through the American Association of the Advancement of Science, post-Ph.D. students can act as science policy advisors in Congress or work with science advocacy organizations or non-government organizations. Another track is finding research or science positions within the federal government like the U.S. Forest Service or National Park Service.

William L. d’Ambruoso

Degree: Master in Political Science

School: University of Washington

Current status: Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Washington

I wish I had known just how brutal the job market would be for a career in academia. I had an inkling, but I hadn’t fully processed the idea that I might have my degree in hand, a decent dissertation and the beginnings of a publication record, and still not land an academic job because the market is so tough.

When applying for a job in the teaching field at the university level, I didn’t know that more than 200 applications for a single position were routine occurrences.

Benjamin Lukoff

Degree: Master of English Linguistics

School: University College London

Current status: Senior web producer at Seattle Children’s Hospital and author of “Seattle Then and Now”

I wish I knew how little we were really going to be able to cover in my program. There’s so much to the field – any field, really – that you can only scratch the surface in an M.A. program.

I think I was surprised at how deep we didn’t go. Put another way, I learned a lot in my B.A. program. We went pretty deep. I learned a lot more in my M.A. program. But I think I was surprised by how much deeper it was possible to go from there in so many different directions.

Science is not linear, and because of this, your Ph.D. won’t be either.” - Michael V. Gonzalez, WSU

Michael V. Gonzalez

Degree: Ph.D. in Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology

School: Washington State University

Current status: Postdoctoral fellow at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute

Something I wish someone would have told me beforehand is that science is not linear, and because of this, your Ph.D. won’t be either. In the pursuit of the undergraduate degree, success was dictated by knowing facts and passing tests. Graduate school is an adventure into the unknown, taking existing knowledge and asking unknown questions.

Because of the inherent instability in asking these questions, there will be days of frustration and anger as well as elation and joy, and every emotion in between. Stay the course! Progress will come in spurts, and it may seem that some months go by with little progress. But remember that every failed experiment is a learning experience (and there definitely will be failures). Don’t get discouraged; it’s all part of the learning process.

Kelley Kohout

Degree: Master of Business Administration

School: Duke University

Current status: Development manager at Lennar Multifamily

I had a much greater appreciation for school after being in the workforce. However, my enthusiasm may have gotten the best me. I was so anxious to fully engage in school I opted into everything rather than curating my activities and classes into a few that I was very passionate about.

When you head back to school you give up income and begin to incur debt, which is always on your mind. I certainly wish I had a greater ability to live in the moment and not continually worry about post-school job prospects.

Bryan Bedson

Degree: Master of Marriage and Family Therapy

School: Seattle Pacific University

Current status: Private practice marriage and family therapist in Edmonds

Prior to starting graduate school, I wish somebody had advised me to spend more time exploring my field of choice before committing to a graduate program. While I was thoroughly impressed with the program I attended, I often wonder how different my path would have been if I had done a little bit more research into the daily life of a marriage and family therapist.

There is a good chance I would still have chosen to pursue the same degree, but graduate school is very expensive, and even with a master’s degree, stepping straight out of school and into a job is not a guarantee in today’s economy.

Jenni Ross

Degree: Master of Public Health in Nutritional Science

School: University of Washington

Current status: On parental hiatus; most recently worked for Puget Sound Kidney Centers as a renal dietitian

I wish I would have known that time out of the workforce to complete a graduate degree is time out of the workforce, even if it is time taken to bolster one’s credentials. It can be challenging to get back in at the same level of compensation, fulfillment and full-time status.  I recommend that people be wary of programs without a stipend that advise students to quit their jobs.

Although I knew about the modest salaries in my field, I wish I would have known just how saturated the Seattle market was … with graduate-level dietitians. Not all markets are the same, so national job outlook and salary data don’t necessarily apply to all areas. It’s worth considering such issues.