The Joys of Research and Graduate School

by Rachel Philiph

This semester is going too fast! Can you believe this is already week 10? That mean’s we’re over halfway done. And that means my senior year is a quarter of the way gone! I have registered for my last semester of classes, and I am simultaneously excited and apprehensive.

I am so excited to be moving on to graduate school for a PhD in Biomedical Engineering next fall, but I am extremely apprehensive about the graduate school application process. Applying for graduate school is much more complicated than applying for an undergraduate degree. In addition to considering rankings and available majors, you have to consider research, funding, and lab equipment. Admissions are also much more subjective and selective.

At many of the top engineering graduate schools, hundreds of excellent students apply for as few as 20 available positions in a department. A good grade point average isn’t enough. You also need excellent test scores, essays, research experience, and recommendations. Even if you are a good candidate for a school, if your research interests and experience don’t align with a research group that is hiring graduate students, you will not be admitted.

Although the process is daunting, graduate school offers the opportunity to explore and become a true expert in a specific area. This different type of learning is what motivates me to continue my education in graduate school. Rather than learning by reading books and listening to lectures, you get to learn by designing experiments and asking questions. Instead of crushing your creativity with equations and protocols, graduate school frees the mind to think outside the box and generate new ideas.

It’s going to be hard. The work will be nearly never ending; graduate school is like a 24/7 job. I will have to work weekends, nights, early mornings. While other people are headed to the bar, I will be headed to the lab. However, it will all be worthwhile. The PhD is more than a piece of paper, and more than earning the title “Doctor.” To me, it means that I will be able to contribute to science and the world in a real way. I hope that the work I complete with my PhD will make a difference to someone.

Research isn’t for everyone. However, I strongly encourage every student to give research a chance. Iowa State is a Research I university, which means there are professors conducting research in every area of study. Whether you are studying chemistry or political science, there is an opportunity to conduct research in your field at Iowa State. Whether you love it or hate it, I guarantee you will learn something new and make new connections at school.

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