How Do I Know If Graduate School Is The Right Choice For Me?


During week two of fall quarter 2020, my cohort of fellows was introduced to approximately thirty Miller Center Fellowship alumni. The zoom meeting was essentially “speed-dating”. Placed into small break-out groups, we introduced ourselves and began asking the alumni questions about their lives post-Santa Clara, how the fellowship prepared them for it, and their continuous vocational discernment. At the end of these Zoom meetings, I was expected to choose just one alum to be my go-to person for the rest of the quarter. The only problem was that I wanted all of them to be my fellowship buddy! I left each meeting with so many more questions about post-Santa Clara University life. I felt that they had so much knowledge to offer while also being so relatable as they were just four to five years ahead of us. While I did settle on one buddy, Lauren and I decided that one of our main vocational discernment practices for the quarter would be to meet with more of these alumni who were focused on Public Health. These alumni interviews were truly a defining factor in my vocational discernment process for graduate school.

Lauren and I ended up interviewing Caroline de Bie (2014 Cohort) and Serena Chan (2015 Cohort) with specific questions geared towards graduate school. One of the questions we asked is: “What was a memorable part of your fellowship that prepared you for Graduate School?” Both Caroline and Serena brought up “finding your joy”. Their “joy” provided direction as they maneuvered the working world after graduating from SCU. They both consistently evaluated what energized them during their work, and what was draining to them. This allowed them to make decisions that aligned with the path of what they truly enjoyed. This reflection made me realize the importance of being in tune with oneself. For me, I’ve felt that up until this point in my life, I have been following a script laid out to me by my parents. Sure, I was able to make decisions within this script such as my major or my work experiences but ultimately, I had to follow the path of schooling that was expected of me. Now, I feel like I’ve run out of script. There’s an expectation that I do something with my life after college, but no specifics. All of a sudden, I’m faced with so many questions. What do I want my career to be? What would be the best decision after college to get on this career path? How do I go about that? However, asking the question “What do you find joy in?” overrules all these smaller questions. Finding your joy gets to the root of your purpose as a human in this world. It helps to direct all further decisions because it’s the essence of who you are.

Along with this, Caroline de Bie described waiting for a “spark” when researching opportunities. She said that she grew to recognize and understand this feeling of a “spark” or the “singing of her heart” when she read or listened to something that appealed to her joy. I really liked this comment. My Myers-Briggs type is ESFP. The F in my personality type means that I based decisions on how I or others feel. I strongly resonate with my gut feeling. While I will think or write out every possible consideration while decision-making, I ultimately always go with my gut. I know the feeling Caroline is talking about, and I plan to listen to it closely and more often. Another important tip from both Caroline and Serena was to stay open-minded and curious. Both emphasized that post-grad is just the beginning of what’s ahead. There’s no need to specialize just yet. Stay open and stay curious about the opportunities available within or outside graduate school because you never know where one may lead you. These pieces of wisdom strongly influenced how I went about considering and applying to graduate school.

​I honestly felt like a different person after writing my Statement of Purpose. After compiling descriptions and reflections of every public health/biology-related activity I’ve done, I looked for themes in my paper to try and come up with an encompassing introduction. I ended up writing a whole introduction on the power of empathy within both Public Health and Social Entrepreneurship. What this helped me to realize is that my joy lies in problem-solving quantitatively, qualitatively, and interpersonally. I find joy in being a mediator between teams, whether that’s translating data into working solutions and results or collaborating and creating compromise among multiple disciplines. These activities make me feel energized in my work. Being able to compare my experiences between working with Koe Koe Tech and the Sisters’ Blended Value Project validated that I wanted to work both in data collection and analysis, while also interpersonally on a community level to ultimately bring evaluative statistics to life. I want to apply these activities that make me feel energized to a program that’s geared towards creating a better world. That’s what guides me as I scan for opportunities in the job field and in graduate school.

​I found myself coming to more succinct conclusions on what I wanted to do in the future as I was researching graduate schools. I employed the piece of advice that Caroline recommended: listen to what makes your heart sing. As an incredibly indecisive undergraduate student, I had decided to apply to graduate school before I even really knew what that entailed. I continued to be hesitant about my decision until I started looking into what various graduate schools had to offer. As I was researching the University of Washington’s opportunities outside of coursework, I found a professor’s research lab, along with the PhD program he developed, that made my heart sing at the top of its lungs. The professor’s PhD and research lab is called “Implementation Science”: the use of a scientific approach to evaluate interventions, translate to the community level, and employ health interventions that are sustainable in challenging environments. When I found this program, I could not stop myself from reading more and more about it. I was completely enthralled. You may be wondering, if this was the perfect program, why didn’t I just apply to the Implementation Science PhD instead? I had to reel myself in from this program and remind myself that I have time. Just as Serena and Caroline said, now is the time for exploration and curiosity, not specialization. This whole process culminated in validation of my pursuit of a Master’s in Public Health in Epidemiology, a more general public health curriculum with an emphasis on building technical data skills. This validation was only possible because of my discernment experiences. Now, I’m able to feel much more secure in my application to this graduate program.

Applying to graduate school taught me more about myself than I ever expected it to. It allowed me to deeply understand what I wanted for my life and my future. As I reach the end of a script that was laid out for me by my parents, applying to graduate school forced me to begin writing my own script on how to follow my joy in everything that I do. Whether or not I actually end up attending grad school next year (which will require a secondary discernment in the Spring), I truly learned a lot about myself through this process. If I were to provide advice to students considering graduate school, I would say this:

  • Take lots of time to discern “your joy”. It’s important to take notes after each discernment activity or practice to keep those reflections in mind. These smaller reflections at different discernment points will serve as reminders of your evolving vocation. Not to mention, they will support your Personal Statement writing processes.
  • Be curious and open-minded. Consider all opportunities or specializations within graduate school. Conduct thorough research to explore your options and listen to what makes your heart sing.
  • Talk to people who have been through it! This has been one of the most helpful vocational discernment practices for me. These conversations allowed me to build a network of extremely knowledgeable and inspiring people that have supported me through the process. For that, I am so grateful.

To update those who read the post:

I will be attending Boston University in the Fall to complete a two-year Master’s in Public Health with an emphasis in Epidemiology and Biostatistics. This program will support my pursuit in creating a career path that combines an analytical approach to public health with strong community involvement, the two things that make my heart sing.

Written by Izzy Silber | Miller Center Student Fellow