Saturday, February 2, 2013

Masters first, or go for the whole enchilada?

  This week I helped proof-read some first year master students' grant proposals, and thought how much more prepared for grant writing they'd be when/if they went on to PhDs. Indeed, thinking back to my naive self starting grad school, I wonder how things would be different if I had started with my Masters.
In fact, my choice came done to a Masters vs. PhD program when deciding on graduate school. I knew I wanted to get the Ph.D. (excitement over research, getting my own little corner of the plant world), so my logic went that I might as well do that and not deal with 2+ years of more schooling. But I knew so very little about writing grants, reviewing articles (one of the first 'assignments' from my advisor, which I would have flunked had it been graded), and getting research done vs classwork. Some members of my cohort started with Masters, and while that didn't mean they finished earlier, they were ahead in their thinking and research abilities. I think back (and try not to actually look back at) to the grants I wrote, especially in comparison to the NSF preproposal we (and hundreds of others) just submitted. My first graduate research proposal draft to my advisor came back with the note that it was in completely the wrong format and needed to be re-written. Now, that may also be a fault of an advisor or graduate program that expects students to write grants but doesn't provide guidance on how to write or submit them. But if I'd done a Masters, I would have gone through that process, perhaps at a lower or less-stressful level.
  It's a habit to look back and wonder how we could have done better or come out just a bit more ahead with a different choice. Ultimately, I think it was a good choice. I came out with fewer publications, it took longer to get into my grant stride, but it was what I wanted to do. The choice to go to the PhD program was not a hard one at the time, and now I don't have to worry about homework, classes, finals, or thesis defenses.

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