Your Greatest
Graduate Study Challenges Will Amount To Two Words

Will You Be Able To Face What They Mean To You?

by Arturo F Munoz

"The PhD student is someone who forgoes current income in order to forgo future income."
Paul Greenberg, Managing Principal, Analysis Group Boston, quoting his grad school professor
in The Economist

graduate study challenges pied piper
There is a secret to overcoming your graduate study challenges if you're considering to return to college after age 25, and more so if you're jumping from undergrad to grad school without a respite.

The secret is apprenticeship under a reliable mentor, because book knowledge alone does not move mountains. You need the dynamite of personal involvement from someone in the know about making it in the field that you will try to penetrate now in your adult years. This is a proven fact in history.

Alone with your degree you will fail. You will need apprenticeships and mentors.

Graduate study challenges come your way in many forms and intensities. Some are financial.
  • Will you be able to cover the outrageous expense of graduate school today without selling your soul?

  • Will the time spent sitting on your bum listening to lectures for years pay with interest for the opportunity cost of not having done something else with that precious, unrenewable time?

Some are psychological.
  • Will you be able to adapt to the change of schedules, assignments and stress in your life that grad school will bring?

  • Will you be willing to reprioritize your life?

  • Is a term paper more important than a PTA meeting, a family cook-out, a date?

But the most critical graduate study challenges come in the form of the now questionable usefulness of a having degree.

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Consider the context of my remark. There was a time when a high school diploma marked the end of childhood and the beginning of the adult life. People finished high school, got a factory job and married their school sweetheart to start raising a family before even turning 20 years old.

Not much earlier than that, there was a time when finishing grammar school brought an end to what we consider childhood today. By age twelve, for instance, my mother, who is in her 70s, finished her elementary education. My grandmother immediately sent her out to work with a relative to produce income for the household. My mom didn't finish high school until she got a GED well into her 50's over 40 years later.

In my own generation a Bachelor's Degree has been the new high school diploma.

But the enormous glut of undergraduates made the significance of settling for just that degree rather pointless, unless I wanted to compete against high schoolers only to surpass them on the basis of this hard-earned degree.

I emphasize them because high schoolers were not my competition. My competition was the mass of undergraduates who had graduated with me. So, to differentiate myself from the rest of my undergraduate competitors, I shuffled along to graduate school.

This tripled my student debt despite a handsome fellowship, a decent full-time job and a decision to drop the Ph.D. route for a Master's degree, which saved me even more money but, more importantly, time – time in which to compound the fruit of my labor outside of academia!

A Graduate Student In The Grips Of His Biggest Graduate Study Challenges

graduate study challenges bumper stickerOn my journey to grad school I encountered scores of adults struggling with the typical graduate study challenges that I've mentioned. But not one questioned the usefulness of that grad school degree that we were pursuing.

However, my background in having a father who was a successful entrepreneur always kept my skepticism alive regarding the real value of college degrees.

After all, my dad had finished his secondary education through a night school program and had raised me in a lifestyle that matched, if not surpassed, that of many attorneys, doctors, engineers and educators with graduate school degrees.

What was the connection between a college degree and more personal earnings at the microeconomic level and not based on broad sweeping macroeconomic observations that lump everyone in the same bucket? That was my personal graduate study challenge and I even wrote a thesis on it to wrap up my Master's Degree in International Managerial Economics from the Claremont Graduate University.

And, did you see it? I've just showed you the connection at the micro level.

Fundamentally it's bragging rights, prestige, and a chance at fitting into the circle of people that you want to play with and who won't let you into their sandbox unless you've done as they've done. In economics this is called signaling effects and barriers to entry. When one party signals a credible message to another about himself, this credential influences the latter to modify his behavior to transact with the former.

So, if I say that I have a Master's Degree from CGU, a distinguished private university in Southern California and a member of the famous Claremont colleges consortium, such as Harvey Mudd, which is in the top 20 best liberal arts colleges in the nation and Claremont McKenna, which is in the top 10, then you know that I'm signalling like a heavy-duty agent.

However, if on the other end there is a principal who is receiving my signal and considers my message to be a bare minimum requirement even to engage in a mere conversation with me, then you know this person has built a barrier to entry into his sandbox. I need my credential to do more than just signal. I need it to open a heavily bolted down door.

What if hundreds of people like me are mobbing that door and the person I want to reach reinforces it to keep those many out? Will my credentials alone suffice now before a more heavily reinforced entry barrier? No. And that's where your graduate study challenges become a frightening prospect, because the graduate degree alone will not make you anyone of distinction in the midst of all others who are just like you.

If Prestige Is the Shadow of Money And Power, Then Why Was Mother Teresa So Poor?

It will do you well to study the following flow chart. It is amuzing in its veracity.

graduate study challenges flow chart

To succeed without use of puffery, to advance in the face of a declining prestige for being a graduate, to overcome your graduate study challenges you need not a graduate degree but a unique selling proposition (USP), where you are the product that you sell to a narrow niche of potential clients.

You also need a helping hand to guide you in how to exploit real opportunities that others have not yet spotted. You want the door to be open for you to go in unobstructed with only a couple of competitors tagging along, rather than a bolted down draw bridge with everyone piling atop a siege work trying to find a crevice in the wall to crawl through.

And what is this USP? I'll tell you what it isn't. It isn't bragging rights. It's not what usually comes up in conversation when discussing graduate study challenges.

A USP is a statement that you deliver to a specific group of people who you wish to do business with, proposing a specific benefit that they stand to gain from working with you alone. It's not just words. It's reality. Your competitors must be unable to match this specific benefit. This distinctive proposition of benefit must be so strong that it can move the masses, pulling people toward you. The benefit that you offer must be unique, believable and important to them!

"What can I do for you?
Well, um, I have a graduate degree..."

Do you really think a graduate degree will make you stand out? Let me tell you: it won't.

This is why I don't rely on my degrees alone to distinguish myself in the area where being different matters. Having a degree qualifies me for some work that may require it. But over the years I've learned that I could have done even better elsewhere without one. I could have saved myself money, time, headaches.

This lesson, however, I'd had to learn from mentors. You won't learn it from those who purvey graduate education. Think of this as being another of those graduate study challenges to add to your list. Don't believe everything that educrats who are not entrepreneurial tell you about what it takes to be enterprising. So, if you're going to be someone's apprentice, pick the right kind of master to guide you.
graduate study challenges student diplomas
It matters who you apprentice with. Keeping up with the master is another story. Listen below to this hilariously insightful presentation from Mike Rowe, host of Discovery Channel's hit show "Dirty Jobs". One of my favorites!

Listen to how he put to use what many today would call a "useless liberal arts education". He addresses the heart of all graduate study challenges – making effective use of the knowledge that you already have before you go broke.

Be his apprentice for a few moments and realize both by his words and his actions the virtue of hard work and the necessity of doing jobs that no one else wants to do, rather than pursuing another sheepskin like so many like you do. Dirty jobs. That's distinguishing now-a-days. It's what a USP is all about!

But what young person would want to do a dirty job to be successful rather than run to college like everybody else?

And yet this is the secret of entrepreneurial success for the young and a good lesson to learn for anyone contemplating graduate school as a way to become unique in a market trending toward considering graduate degrees the new high school diploma.

Pick up his 2 terms anagnorisis and peripeteia -- two Greek words that sum up your graduate study challenges and might change your life, if you listen...if you listen.

You will laugh listening to Mike. Let your sentiment go that far. But be sure to switch your reasoning on and remember that following your dream is not what will bring you happiness in life.

So listen well...especially at his last 2:30 minutes. He is correct. And you should do something about it.

What will you do with what he's taught you, young apprentice? Will you overcome your graduate study challenges early on or will you succumb to your enticing desires and fears?

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