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Difference Between CC and Grad School

What is the major difference between CC and graduate school?

Graduate school involves a lot of self-motivation and self-teaching. At CC, professors make it clear that they are there to help you and that they want you to succeed. In graduate school you'll find that you have to learn a lot of things on your own. You may have a great advisor, but ultimately, you and only you are responsible for your thesis----if you don't get it done, no one else will.

Classes are much more effectively taught at CC. In grad school the faculty are more focused on their research than their teaching, and it often shows.

You have to do more than one thing at a time. Obvious, I know, but as much as I knew that it was coming, handling multiple classes, lab research, and departmental duties at the same time was a bit of a shocker coming out of the block plan. Decide what you'll learn the most from and what's most important to you, prioritize, and don't forget to leave at least a little bit of down time for yourself.

Coursework is not the center of the universe. Coursework is a formality to separate out the people who really want to be there (dropout rate for grad school is higher than that of Med. School). After that, they want you to be a skilled scientist and communicator. Another difference is the requirement for self-initiated organization of your time and resources. Multi-tasking is the name of the game, and there is no such thing as a block plan. Organize your time efficiently to make sure you're not a grad student for 10 years.

Graduate school is more "sink-or-swim" than the environment at CC. People are older. :-)

Graduate school never runs on the Block Plan. Don't expect to be able to take leisurely afternoon naps and go on frequent weekend - or half-week-longskiing excursions. I don't mean to make graduate life seem harsh... once you get used to it, it is extremely rewarding. However, as a graduate student, you are much more than just a student. Research and classes become your life (much to the chagrin of significant others, though truly great relationships can survive it). When you are not in class, you are in the lab or holding office hours for your TA-ship. When you are at home, you are usually up reading or writing until the wee hours of the morning. Experiments do not necessarily stop for holidays, meals, or sleep--theystop when they are finished. You have to have patience and flexibility.Graduate school is nice, though, in that you are one step higher on the totem pole than you were before (you get to order undergrads around!).Also, you are not expected to do well in your courses because you have other, more important things to do. This may not be true for all neuroscience programs that are out there, but it is definitely the case in the large, research-minded universities.

CC is an extremely protected environment. The professors at CC areprimarily interested in teaching and Colorado College does not require thatprofessors constantly publish papers in order to receive tenure. Thepressures on professors at research universities are entirely different.Most of them put less effort into teaching and more effort into research.In order to maintain their research programs, they must constantly succeedin publishing papers and in writing grant applications which receivefunding. This makes for a more competitive environment.As a graduate student, you too will face different kinds of pressures. Forme, the most difficult pressures were not academic but interpersonal. Thework that you do as a graduate student is not laid out for you. You mustdecide what kind of research project you want to do and how you are goingto do it. Probably no one will really tell you what it is you have to doto get a PhD. It's a sort of hazing process, and you have to be verypatient and persistent to make sure that you get what you want. Identifyyour expectations and talk to your advisor about what her/his expectationsare. The most important thing in the beginning is to establish a goodrapport with your advisor and other people in the laboratory. Be sure totalk to your advisor and other colleagues very openly about your role inany projects you are working on. You should indicate that you expect to beincluded as an author on any publications which ensue from projects towhich you devote a significant amount of time. In any project, it is bestto specify from the beginning who will be involved, what their responsibilities and time commitment will be, and what the order ofauthorship will be upon completion of the project.

You have more responsibilities, both in the lab and in your education. Much of what you learn in graduate school is up to you, but the expectations are always high.

I feel that CC is very different from the environment of graduate school. Although the block plan requires that students learn concepts quickly, which is a great benefit for graduate students, it is very different from the constant rigor that is faced by those in graduate school. There are no wonderful block breaks, and weekends may often be spent in the lab catching up or meeting a deadline. Also, courses may fall into a less important category because students have so many other commitments. Another major difference is the professor's attitude towards the students. In graduate school, you are not under the constant watchful eye of a professor--you are on your own. It is very important to learn early on how to work independently of a faculty member.

Let me first point out that I am not in graduate school yet, but am working at the National Institutes of Health with M.D.s, Ph.D.s, graduate students, post-docs and other undergrads. Therefore I cannot comment on courses, advisors, etc, however the environment is very similar. Having said this, you have to be much more independent at the graduate level. No one will pull you aside and tell you that you need to work harder, or even what you should be doing. CC is also much more laid back. Not to belabor the point, but there aren't any breaks in research, and you WILL be expected to be at the lab whenever you are needed, including Friday nights and Sunday mornings. Even when you have been in the lab all week. In addition, nobody will care if you complain.

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