3 Takeaways From My First Year of Grad School – by Fiahna Cabana MPA ’17
As the school year is rounding the corner, I want to share my top three takeaways from my first year of grad school. These are applicable to both first-years and second-years, MPAs, MPPs, MNLMs (heck, maybe even undergrads). These takeaways are:
Don’t underestimate the Trojan Network
When you come to Admit Day or Orientation (or not), the administration and student ambassadors stress that the most valuable part of your graduate experience at USC Price is the Trojan Network—and they’re not lying. Before coming into the program, I never gave this much thought. It was just a lingering resource that I knew I had, but didn’t necessarily tap into it right off the bat. You’ll learn soon enough that grad school will fly by. And once this became a realization for myself, I started to utilize the power of Linkedin and its alumni search tool to really start getting connected with not only Price alumni, but also USC alumni from various degree programs.
At first, it will always be an awkward feeling reaching out to “strangers,” but honestly, use that USC Trojan affiliation to your advantage (in addition to the, “I’m a student” card) and you’d be surprised how receptive people are to sharing their work experiences and career advice. Make it a priority to meet at least one new person a week (this includes even your own peers) and you’ll be amazed at how far and deeply connected you’ll become. If you need some coaching along the way, take the career bootcamp courses offered through USC Price Career Services.
I hate it to break it to you, but if you don’t like working in groups, a graduate degree from USC Price is not for you. Almost every class will have a partner/group component. You’ll be coordinating schedules across 3-4 different people for 3-4 different classes. And to be frank, it will be difficult, but it is manageable. I truly believe that embracing collaboration is at the heart of innovation, so if you want to be a changemaker, you better have open arms to new ideas, new ways of doing things, conflicting work styles and even working with diverse individuals. Be forewarned: You won’t always have the “perfect” group.
Take the leap
Going into grad school you have to remember that this is a whole new ballpark. This isn’t high school or undergrad or even your first “real job.” You’re a whole new you, so: Apply for a graduate position at one of the many Price research centers. Join a student organization. Apply for a leadership position. Join the nonprofit case challenge. Go to a football tailgate. Attend the MPP/MPA Lab. Be an ambassador for your program. The possibilities of trying something new are endless and with only a two years to try everything, don’t let the opportunities pass you up.
Just remember, everyone’s graduate experience will be unique. But understanding why you’re here and what you hope to gain from your program early on will really help to define and craft a more fulfilling experience. With that said, Fight on!
(Note: If you’re an incoming student or 2nd-year interested in getting involved with the Graduate Policy and Administration Community (GPAC), all board members will be recruiting for committee members in the Fall.)
Fiahna Cabana, MPA ’17