Professors: The No. 1 Resource For Those Considering Graduate School

Part of a series on graduate programs at the UA, this article highlights the No. 1 resource for undergrads considering graduate school – their professors.
April 21, 2014

For students who are considering graduate school, their most valuable resource is right in front of them – their professors.

"My advice to undergraduates thinking about graduate school is talk to your professors early and often," said Andrew Comrie, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Arizona. "It's absolutely critical."

Comrie previously served as dean of the UA Graduate College and provided academic leadership for graduate education at the University. He has served in national roles, including the Council of Graduate Schools board of directors and the board of directors of the Graduate Record Examination. Comrie also holds a faculty appointment in the UA School of Geography and Development.

Faculty members are well-equipped to provide direction along students' path to graduate school, beginning with the application process.

"There's a common misconception among undergrads that applying to graduate school is somehow quite similar to applying for undergraduate school, and they're really very different," Comrie said. "For grad school, absolutely you need to be a good student. That's sort of a given. But much more important is the ability that you have to convey your understanding of the field that you want to go into, why you think that field is interesting and important to you at a more intellectual level."

At the UA, students are provided with several opportunities that allow them to get a taste of what graduate school is like, such as the Graduate College's Undergraduate Research Opportunities Consortium, also called UROC.

The National Science Foundation-funded program allows students to participate in an intensive 10-week research experience under the guidance of a faculty member. It also provides professional development opportunities and a free GRE workshop.

Maria Teresa Velez, associate dean of the Graduate College, said UROC helps motivate and prepare students for higher education studies.

"We demystify graduate school and explain what the programs can do for them and help them decide what area they want to specialize in," she said. "This is a very supportive campus. Faculty love to serve that role (of mentor)."

Melanie Culver, an assistant professor of wildlife and fisheries sciences in the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has served as a mentor to potential graduate students through UROC and other internship programs multiple times.

She said testing the waters before diving into graduate school helps students earn additional experience, tools and knowledge to help them be more successful in their pursuits.

"It's the chance to see if it's right for them and give them the confidence they need to be able to pursue graduate school," Culver said. "I like to explain the different types of jobs they would have with each degree and explain what graduate school would be like – what kind of commitment is required for graduate school. I try to give them information that they need to make their own choice."

The UROC undergraduates Culver works with typically spend half of the 10-week program in the lab collecting data and the second half analyzing that data and presenting their work.

"It's very exciting for them," she said. "They don't have this kind of experience in the classroom. They'll have labs, but spending three hours a week during a semester versus being in the lab every day for 10 whole weeks is totally different. They'll do a whole project, and that project is theirs. ... They really feel a sense of accomplishment and ownership."

In addition to UROC, the UA also offers a new Workforce-Ready Master's Fellowship program, which is aimed at boosting grad degrees areas that are important to Arizona's economy, such as aerospace engineering, public health and many others. (Read more about the Workforce-Ready Master's Fellowship in this UANews article.)

Several other resources are available on the Graduate College's website.

"The main thing is, as an undergrad, use the resources you have here among all the professors," Comrie said. "They all understand graduate school exceptionally well. You can't talk to too many people and you can't get enough advice on this."