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What do you wish you would have known about grad school?

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#1
I'm beginning my MCRP program in 2 weeks, and after thinking back on undergrad, there were so many times that I realized, "Wow, if only I had done (x), my life would have been so much easier." So for those of you who have been through the grad school experience....what were those moments for you?
 
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#2
Great question! As someone who just graduated, I'll take a stab. A word of caution though: each student's experience will be totally different from any other student's experience. I will impart what I wish I would have known by category:

Academically:
  • You will come in interested in one thing and come out interested in ten other things
  • Spend time doing the readings. Really. Get the grades for your own fulfillment, not because it matters for job applications.
  • I wish I had realized early how important it is to understand finance, real estate, development, economics, and politics.
    • Get to know 1-2 professors really well, and keep in touch with them. Grad school student-professor relationships might be different than what you expect.
      1. Figure out where your interests lie during the first semester, and spend the rest of your time in the program doing exactly that. Know what you want to get out of your experience.
      2. Alternatively, it's also okay not to know what you want right away. But the sooner you figure it out, the sooner you can hone in on the resources that will tailor to your needs.

        People will tell you that GPA's don't matter in grad school. That depends. I would argue that your first semester gpa *can* matter a lot, because that is what will go on your internship application (which you will likely apply for in spring). It is especially important if you apply to a nationally competitive internship program where applying is similar to the process for applying to graduate school.

      Professionally
      • You will be told over and over again that planners are facilitators and communicators. What this really means in the real world is that you spend a great deal of your day in meetings convening diverse stakeholders together.
      • The differences between public, private/consulting, and non-profit sectors and what it's like to work for all three.
      • The importance of networking
      • How much time applying to jobs takes during your a) spring semester first year for internships and b) spring semester second year for the job hunt. Take a lower class load and allow for this time. Have a system to organize all your cover letters and customize your resume for each type of job you apply to.
        • Your last semester can either be spent working hard on your capstone/thesis/exit project, OR your job search. It's really hard to do both and your classes/extracurriculars/job at the same time. Save one for the summer. You'll live - don't burn out as you head out.

        Socially
        • People are in different stages in grad school. Some are older and some are younger. And that's okay - after the first 3 weeks you won't be able to tell the difference.
        • Some people want to be involved in the larger university outside of their planning program, and others don't. Grad school can be a chance to 'redo' undergrad if you want it to be, but it doesn't need to be. Figure out what kind of student experience you want and make the effort to take initiative. No one is going to give you a tour or an orientation to the university culture like in undergrad.
          • READ ALL THE EMAILS you get! READ THE FLYERS ON THE WALL! Yes there are a ton, especially at the start of the semester, but if you take 30 extra minutes (or a couple extra minutes scanning the bulletin boards in the hall) in the morning to actually read them, you may find so many extracurricular activities, scholarship and fellowship opportunities, research positions, housing options, alumni contacts, events, and general campus news than you ever would have if you hadn't. And then everyone will be amazed at where you learn about all these things.

          Lastly, enjoy the ride (academically, professionally, and socially). For most people, this will the last time you get to immerse yourself learning about the subject you love with people that love the same (or different!) things you do in a campus setting. It will be over before you know it.

          Sorry if that was too much, but I hope that helped a little?

          My bad - the formatting on my post above got messed up. There were supposed to be a lot more bullet points....but anyway. Thought that counts :r:

          ALL THE BEST! I hope you have a wonderful two years ahead of you.
 

JNA

Cyburbian Plus
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#3
after 23 yrs working -

What you studied and the job/work/career opportunities will be different.

What I wished for in school and what I need in my job - More/better GIS training.
OTJT - and did not realize in school - project & dept finance, floodplain management.
One paper written in school (about SARA Title 3) lead to 20 yrs of membership/participation in our county LEPC (hazmat planning).
Volunteer internship has lead to continued reading/research and involvement in Urban Trails.
Wasn't then and still not terribly interested in Transportation Planning.

AIB above posting about social contacts
still talk to one person from school - even after moving away several yrs later I went to his wedding & stayed with them at the Denver APA Conference in 2003 ?
Have kept in touch with a former Professor both in person and through Facebook.
 
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#5
Land Use Law is one of the most useful classes in your career, so pay attention in that one! I wish I had known that.

And I second the comment about your job being nothing like what you learn in grad school, at least on a day to day basis. But there are definitely a-ha moments when I think, wow, I remember that from school! And those moments are exciting because they help everything come full circle.
 

kjel

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#6
I would have taken more GIS to be reasonably competent.

I'd say that seeking out internship opportunities outside the school is critical in understanding how planning is actually practice. Even if it's not part of your program, take a technical writing course and become a master of Excel.
 
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#7
Planning school is meant to be broad and to prepare you for trends in the field 10 years out, not for your first job. That took a few years to digest.
 

The One

Cyburbian
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#8
Easy

1. Get educated on financing projects and learn as much as you can about financing ALL types of projects, housing, roads, bridges, buildings, commercial, industrial, utilities...on and on and on.
2. Get an internship as FAST as you can and stick with it until it becomes a full-time job. Then be a part-time student and full-time employee. You will ask GREAT questions in class after this transition and get more out of the education available to you because you will be able to compare it to real world concerns.
3. Basic GIS knowledge is good.
4. Seriously consider a dual degree if it only requires another 15 credits and you can afford the time and money. (public administration, engineering or architecture)
 
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#9
This was originally my thread, but now that I'm a year in, I'll pop in with one that I didn't know beforehand: find a topic you're interested in and study it independently. Interested in public health? Take a course and read some literature. Like development or design? Learn Argus or SketchUp in addition to your core curriculum. Not only will this set you apart from your classmates, but it'll give you a topic of interest for your thesis/future studies, and give you even more of an edge when applying for jobs in the field you're most interested in.
 
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#10
^ seconded! I took 2 classes in public health from outside my department. Most programs have elective requirements that you need to fill, anyway. Our program had so many elective requirements that most people took them from outside the department.

Technical skills to build:
  • GIS
  • Excel
  • Writing
  • Problem Solving/Case Studies
  • Statistics
  • Zoning & Site Plan Review
  • Data Analysis!!!
  • Finance
  • Basic Graphic Design/Document Layout (Adobe Creative Suite, SketchUp, infographics, creating posters and boards etc.)

Other skills to build:
  • Community Engagement & Public Outreach
  • Storytelling & Communication (Public speaking, writing, visual, blogging, social media)
  • Negotiation and Conflict Resolution
 
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#11
Generally, how little grad school actually helps develop your career and how little the education ties to actual work, especially entry-mid level work. Oh, and how bad student loans suck.
If you plan on working in CA, here some additional things to know:

CEQA!!! + environmental law
Air modeling
Public financing
Real estate
Storm water
 
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