October 28, 2014

Two Cents: Gap Years

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Many people who pursue Ph.D.s in the sciences will take a “gap year” or several between their undergraduate and graduate degrees to gain more experience in their field, pay off student loans, or just decompress from the stress of undergraduate life. This week Sun Science talked with graduate students about their experiences with and reasons for taking or not taking gap years before starting graduate work. Brittiany Nkounkou grad is a third-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Computer Science. Alise Muok grad is a third-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Chemistry.

Compiled by Kathleen Bitter, Sun Science Editor.

Did you take a gap year? Why or why not?

“No, because I had no good reason to take any gap years. I had no student loans to pay off, I was still in school mode and didn’t feel I needed a break. Everything I’d learned through undergrad was still fresh in my mind, I was still close with those who wrote my recommendation letters, etc.” —Nkounkou

“No, I didn’t take any gap years because I knew I wanted to go to graduate school — I loved research as an undergraduate and knew that’s what I wanted to do professionally. You can’t really get a job as a research leader without a graduate degree so there was no question for me.” —Muok

If you could go back and change your decision, would you?

“Nope! If anything I wish I could go back and start my interest in science sooner. When I was an [undergraduate], I thought I wanted to do architecture. I don’t regret it because [finding] what I’m passionate about was a really good experience, but I would have had the oppurtunity to gain a lot more experience in research if I started doing science earlier.”  —Muok

“No. I knew I wanted to go to grad school when I applied, and saw no reason to postpone it.” —Nkounkou

Would you recommend prospective graduate students in your field make the same decision you did?

“I recommend that people make the decision that works best for them — it is perfectly fine to choose to take gap years or not.” —Nkounkou

“I would say if you have any doubts about graduate school, then don’t do it! Someone in my incoming graduate class left the program and I remember her saying graduate school was something she debated before she applied.” —Muok